Once Phil Pressey scooped up the loose ball that had squirmed out of A.J. Price’s hands, his mind, as it always is, was on rushing the other way before the Pacers could get back.
He knew he had Marcus Smart running with him, and there was a fast-break bucket waiting for them.
He pumped a chest pass Smart’s way.
After that, it was all a blur.
Smart grabbed a feed from Pressey at halfcourt, took two dribbles, and tried to slice through two defenders with a Eurostep.
On the last step, his left ankle crumpled underneath him.
“I thought he just rolled his ankle,” Pressey said.
Smart still tried to heave up a shot, with Price whistled for a foul, but at that point none of it mattered.
Smart was on the hardwood in a heap, grabbing at his ankle and writhing in pain.
Celtics trainer Ed Lacerte rushed to his attention along with team doctor Brian McKeon.
Teammates poured from the Celtics bench to check on Smart.
“I didn’t know what it was when he went down,” Jeff Green said. “I was just hoping it wasn’t as serious as I thought initially. But that’s part of the game.”
The Celtics’ first-round draft pick stayed on the floor for nearly 10 minutes before being taken off on a stretcher.
Smart gave a thumbs-up before being taken off the floor.
“That let us know that he was still good, in good spirits, and we just wanted to get that win for him,” Pressey said.
The Celtics’ 101-98 victory came down to their ability to gather themselves after Smart went down.
“It’s tough to see a teammate go down the way he went down, not knowing what the circumstances was of his injury,” Green said. “But the game had to continue. We had to pull ourselves together quick.”
There were still foul shots to take, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens called on Gerald Wallace.
Wallace had played just three minutes in the team’s first four games this season, but he was ready. It was a position he had been in many times before in his 14 years in the league.
“I was more worried about Marcus and his injury,” Wallace said. “I’ve seen that ankle sprain; matter of fact, I’ve had it before. So for him to be so young and just starting to play good, it’s a bad thing for him to go down like that.”
The Celtics went on a 7-2 run immediately after Smart went down, but they still had to fight off a sewn-together Pacers team that was starving for a win having lost four straight coming in.
As thin as they were, the Pacers still got double-figure scoring from six of the nine players who touched the floor, led by Roy Hibbert (22 points, 11 rebounds).
Indiana turned the paint into an art gallery, outscoring the Celtics, 56-34.
Stevens knew the Pacers were hobbled coming in, but he didn’t consider them any less of a threat. He answered with as much depth as possible, calling on all but one of his 13 actives and getting a contribution from every one of them, especially in the game’s crucial final stretch.
From Pressey pushing the pace to Wallace forcing the issue on defense to Tyler Zeller and Brandon Bass pushing and shoving with the Pacers’ big men, the Celtics scrapped to keep Indiana at bay.
Jared Sullinger knocked down a 3-pointer with 3:33 left that gave the Celtics a 97-90 lead, and they clung to it the rest of the way.
After Indiana got within 1 with 40 seconds left, the Celtics came up with three offensive rebounds, none bigger than the one Green snatched over Hibbert with six seconds left, which forced the Pacers to finally go into foul mode.
Green coolly knocked down a pair of foul shots that put the Celtics up, 99-96, and ostensibly iced the game.
The Celtics snapped their three-game losing streak, but with Smart’s injury, they face the possibility of a loss they can hardly afford.
X-rays on Smart’s ankle were negative, and he was set to have an MRI after the game.
“We’re hoping it’s a sprain, but we don’t know that,” Stevens said. “So obviously a great deal of concern for him, No. 1, and hopefully he can get back sooner rather than later.”
The Celtics have the second half of a back-to-back against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night to worry about, but Stevens’s concern was obviously for Smart.
“More worried about the kid than what our lineups or rotations are going to be,” Stevens said. “We’ve got a whole 22 hours to figure that out.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.