INDIANAPOLIS — What makes Celtics coach Ime Udoka’s job much easier and lowers his stress levels is when his two cornerstones play like All-Stars on the same night. It hasn’t been all that often when Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum each are splashing 3-pointers and attacking the rim.
Wednesday was one of those nights.
After the Celtics struggled to score Monday against the shorthanded Indiana Pacers, they responded with a stellar offensive effort to pull away from the healthier Pacers, 119-100, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
With their third consecutive win, the Celtics return to .500 and snap a six-game road losing streak.
Brown scored 34 points on 11-for-19 shooting and 7 of 11 from the 3-point line. He scored 20 of those in the first half. Tatum added 33 on 11-for-19 shooting and four 3-pointers. It was the sixth time overall and second time this season Brown and Tatum have each scored at least 30 points. Boston is 6-0 in those games.
“It makes everything a lot easier,” Udoka said. “We’re looking for that to be the regular thing. You add Dennis (Schröder) in there and you got three guys in attack mode and it’s hard to stop. Any time you have those two guys rolling, you’re going to have a good offensive night. The thing I liked was the ball moving.”
The Celtics, who never trailed, shot 51.3 percent from the field, dished out 23 assists and made 18 3-pointers.
The ability to build on a 5-point halftime lead and cruise was a relief for Udoka, whose team has blown several double-digit leads this season. There would be no suspense Wednesday as Tatum and Brown each displayed their offensive arsenal while Schröder returned to the starting lineup and scored 23 points, including 13 in the third quarter when Boston pulled away.
While the Celtics’ three wins have come against below .500 teams, they consider the past few days progress, especially with the chemistry between Brown and Tatum. They said they have to make up a lot of ground in the second half to salvage the season.
“Obviously I want Jayson to reach his potential and get everything out of his game that he wants to get out of it,” Brown said. “To see him going, it’s great. It inspires me. We gotta keep getting better, keep improving, keep playing off each other and making the best of what we have.”
Boston was stingy at the 3-point line as the Pacers were 7-for-36 shooting (4 for 27 besides Justin Holiday, who made 3 of 9. That inability to score ensured the Celtics kept a double-digit lead throughout the quarter. While All-Star Domantas Sabonis was efficient in the paint, he didn’t have much help as fellow big man Myles Turner was saddled with foul trouble.
The lone detractor of the half was a head injury sustained by center Robert Williams, who was whacked across the head running down the floor by Indiana’s Lance Stephenson. Williams labored to the bench with a cut above his left eye. He spent about 20 minutes being examined before returning early in the fourth period.
The Celtics were able to avoid a poor third-quarter ending, using a 3-pointer by Schröder and a bucket from Josh Richardson to secure an 87-71 lead going to the final period.
Brown morphed into takeover mode early in the second period when he scored 10 consecutive points, including a pair of 3-pointers for a 47-33 lead. Brown had 20 points at the 7:05 mark but he wouldn’t score again in the quarter.
“We try not to look at it as taking turns,” Tatum said of him and Brown. “More so, it’s just making the right play. You don’t want to get caught up in taking turns and then you get stagnant. It’s just making the right plays and the rest will figure itself out.”
Indiana coach Rick Carlisle employed a trapping, zone defense and the Celtics were confused, and scored just 3 points in the final 5:08 after taking a 51-37 lead. Udoka has pointed out the trouble in finishing quarters, something that burned them in a Jan. 6 loss to the New York Knicks.
“We were in scramble mode all night,” Indiana guard Caris LeVert said. “Everybody on their team was hot. We couldn’t just get a stop.”
The Pacers ended the first half on a 12-3 run as they kept feeding Sabonis, who scored Indiana’s final three baskets of the half. Tatum scored a layup at the 31.2 mark that snapped a 3:57 scoreless streak. The Celtics again looked like an elite team for most of the half but walked into the tunnel leading only 54-49.
This time, however, the Celtics started the second half with an 8-0 and took control again, never letting the Pacers get close. The ball moved. Al Horford contributed inside scoring. Williams, despite three stitches above his eye, was chasing rebounds and saving possessions.
The road gets more difficult with Philadelphia and Chicago upcoming in their most difficult back-to-back set of the season. Brown said the team cannot waste the momentum generated over the past five days.
“No satisfaction whatsoever,” Brown said. “We’re playing some good ball right now. We gotta keep it up. It’s time to start changing some of that adversity into positive production. We’re capable, we’re ready for that. We can’t lose our edge. It takes a lot of mental focus. It’s time to start growing up and everybody being on one accord and playing some good basketball.”