The flurries were relentless, created by ball movement and unselfishness, and such offensive beauty is becoming commonplace for the Celtics, even against the league’s top defenses.
In a showdown the Celtics privately were viewing as a litmus test for their progress, the Indiana Pacers and their stellar road record proved no match on Wednesday night at TD Garden.
Behind a series of offensive runs and timely 3-point shooting, the Celtics destroyed the Pacers’ second-ranked defense, turning the fourth quarter into a scrimmage by running away for a 135-108 win.
Seven Celtics scored in double figures, including 22 points each from Marcus Morris and the rejuvenated Jaylen Brown. What’s more, the Celtics, who collected 32 assists, finished with at least 30 for the fifth consecutive time, a testament to their suddenly clicking offense.
The Celtics are 15-5 since coach Brad Stevens instituted lineup changes on Nov. 26 against New Orleans, and 7-2 since their players-only meeting after a disheartening loss to Milwaukee. Spirits have been lifted in the locker room as the team is beginning to see its hard work lead to positive results.
“It’s not too often that we’re going to put up 135 points, but I feel consistently over the last few games we’ve done a great job of just making shots,” guard Kyrie Irving said. “But they’ve been great ones. They haven’t been good ones. Some of them have been great. As you see, we’ve been on some runs where we score 9 points in almost 33 seconds. You have that type offense and it’s pretty hard to stop.”
Also, Stevens was able to limit the minutes of Irving and Al Horford heading into Thursday night’s game in Miami. The night couldn’t have gone better for the Celtics, who improved to 5-3 against the top four teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers, who played Tuesday in Cleveland, looked a step slow all evening, and coach Nate McMillan decided to rest All-Star Victor Oladipo for the entire fourth quarter after a lethargic 17-point effort. Indiana has been one of the league’s more impressive teams despite drawing little attention, and the Celtics viewed this game as an important marker for their growth.
“I didn’t think they had their best night,” Stevens said of the Pacers. “They make a couple of more free throws in the first half and maybe a different ballgame heading into the second [half]. But we feel pretty good about it and move on.”
In the second and third quarters, the Celtics scored a stunning 76 points on 27-for-40 shooting (67.5 percent), including 9 for 13 from the 3-point line. They buried the Pacers with another stirring run after Indiana drew to within 79-67 with 5:31 left in the third. Boston responded with a 26-14 run to end the quarter, turning the fourth into garbage time.
For Brown, it was another standout game. Seemingly embracing his role as instant offense off the bench, he was 7 for 12 from the field to go with seven rebounds and three assists. In his last 10 games, Brown is averaging 14.4 points on 55 percent shooting and 37.5 percent from the 3-point line.
“Just adapting, a lot of players, a lot of pieces out there,” Brown said. “Just trying to figure out who you are and where you fit. It’s going to continue to change. You’ve got to be patient, continue to work hard, and everything will fall into place.”
The Celtics separated themselves for good with an offensive barrage in the final 8:15 of the second quarter following a Tyreke Evans layup that tied the game at 35. Boston went on a 33-18 quarter-ending run, hitting four 3-pointers, including a long ball from Irving for a 68-51 lead.
Irving finished with 12 points in 23 minutes, playing just seven minutes in the second half as the Celtics led by as many as 31 points. For a team so uncertain about itself six weeks ago, the Celtics appear to have found a groove, especially on offense, and it’s centered around balance.
“When we’re making shots and we continue to make each other better and we’re making those plays we weren’t making at the beginning of the season, just trusting one another in specific positions in our offense, I feel like we’re very comfortable in what we’re running,” Irving said. “Everything we talked about at the beginning of the season, I feel like is translating now as we continue to get to know one another.
“It’s the meat of the season right now and you can tell our team is feeling really good being around each other. It’s totally different in terms of how we feel out there. When I don’t have to go out there and score 30, it’s cool for me. I probably won’t have to score 30 until we play one of the best teams in the league, or if any, until the playoffs, and I’m happy about that.”
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.