INDIANAPOLIS — Pacers center Myles Turner stood near midcourt after Indiana’s emphatic 122-112 win over the Celtics in an In-Season Tournament quarterfinal Monday night and prepared for an interview with the arena emcee that would be broadcast on the video board.
But really, there was no interview. Turner simply grasped the microphone himself and launched into a very brief speech that was capped with all that these happy fans really wanted to hear.
“We’re going to Vegas, baby!” he boomed, and the roars followed.
Over the past few weeks, players around the league have generally reacted to this new league experiment with a mixture of curiosity and indifference. It would certainly not serve as a substitute for an NBA title.
But unlike the Celtics, these Pacers are not legitimate championship contenders. And they have approached this event with palpable excitement and urgency. It was meaningful.
That is why they danced onto the court after the final buzzer. That is why star guard Tyrese Haliburton’s parents soon joined him there and offered celebratory hugs.
The Pacers, who improved to 5-0 in the tournament, advanced to Thursday’s semifinals in Las Vegas, where they will face the winner of Tuesday’s other conference quarterfinal between the Knicks and Bucks. The Celtics, meanwhile, return home, where they will face the loser of that quarterfinal Friday night.
Their locker room was slightly more somber and quiet than usual after this loss. They were heavy favorites to win this tournament, and they seemed disappointed about falling short.
Jaylen Brown quipped that it was unfortunate that they had not advanced to Las Vegas, but added that they would just have to settle for the Encore Casino in Boston instead. Jayson Tatum was asked if the tournament setback had angered him.
“Yeah. I wanted to [expletive] go to Vegas,” he said. “I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to go to Vegas, so yeah, I’m mad. Next year, I guess.”
He flashed a slight smile as he said this. He did not exactly sound furious, but he also was certainly not pleased. And that might best explain the general sentiment of these Celtics.
Before the game, coach Joe Mazzulla was asked whether Boston’s 51-point demolition of Indiana last month would have any rollover effect.
He quickly and succinctly said there were several reasons that it would not. But the most obvious was that the Pacers did not have their young MVP candidate, Haliburton, in that game.
Haliburton, who missed the Pacers’ win over the Heat on Saturday due to an illness, was back and his impact was massive. He had a triple-double, with 26 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds, and no turnovers.
His also produced the night’s most important moment. With 1:33 left and the score tied at 105, Al Horford was guarding Haliburton at the top of the key when Buddy Hield jogged over from the left arc and feigned setting a screen as Jaylen Brown trailed Hield.
Instead, he slipped past Horford. Brown said later that in this situation he was supposed to stay with Hield since no screen was set, and he yelled this instruction to Horford, too. But Horford switched onto Hield, and Brown was left to quickly close out on Haliburton.
His attempt was deep, off-balance and, frankly, awkward. But he made it, and he was fouled by Brown in the process.
“That’s a tough position for our bigs to be in, so [Horford] decided to drop and I had to recover to make up for the loss,” Brown said. “And he stepped in that gap and made a shot.”
Jayson Tatum had 32 points and 12 rebounds and Brown added 30 points and nine rebounds for Boston, which made just 12 of 41 3-pointers and committed 17 turnovers. The Pacers, who made 19 of 40 3-pointers, got a big lift from former Celtics wing Aaron Nesmith, who poured in 11 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics did well slowing Indiana’s flammable offense in the first half and took a 55-48 lead to the break. But they were outscored 37-23 in the third quarter, when the Pacers shot 55.6 percent from the field and did not commit a turnover.
The Celtics trailed, 94-87, with just under eight minutes left in the fourth, but a pair of mid-range jumpers by Tatum helped them find their rhythm. Boston also got some timely bounces, including an offensive rebound that bounced to Horford and ended up in the hands of Brown for a wide-open 3-pointer that tied the score at 94.
The teams spent the next few minutes trading baskets, with neither leading by more than 2 points. But Haliburton’s big shot created some distance, and after Tatum missed a 3-pointer, Hield drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 54.1 seconds left that made it 112-105.
“Anytime you get knocked out of something it’s going to be a little bit different,” guard Derrick White said. “I guess it’s a little bit different because we didn’t really know where we were going, and now we’re going home.”