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Pacers say they’ll be ready to get physical for Game 2

Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis got pushed around on this drive to the basket, his shot blocked by Marcus Morris.
Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis got pushed around on this drive to the basket, his shot blocked by Marcus Morris.(Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

The way the Pacers were talking Monday at TD Garden, they had just spent 48 minutes the previous day with the 1990 Bad Boy Pistons.

The Pacers talked repeatedly about the Celtics’ physicality, especially in that pivotal third quarter in Boston’s 84-74 win in the opener of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Indiana scored 8 points in that period on 2-for-19 shooting and one of those shots was a goaltending call, so they hit one basket (a Doug McDermott layup with 1:27 left) in the entire period.

In the other three periods, Indiana outscored the Celtics by 8 points, so they see the opportunity to win Game 2 as very possible if they can respond to the Celtics’ physical defense and hit shots.

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Coach Nate McMillan appeared annoyed with Boston’s defense and the lack of foul calls, so he promised his team will increase their physicality.

“We’ve got to play through the contact,” he said after the team’s Monday afternoon practice. “They are being physical with us defensively. They’ve got two hands on our guys and being physical, and we’ve got to play through that. If the officials are going to allow that to happen, we’ve got to run through that contact. We’ve got to play that way, too. They got physical in that third quarter, bodying up. It’s playoff basketball, and we didn’t respond to that. I thought we gave in to that, especially in that third quarter.

“We didn’t handle their pressure well and we didn’t execute in that third quarter and that led to 8 points. We’ve got to be be better than that, and we can be better than that.”

Indiana shot 33.3 percent and had just two players in double figures. Small forward Bojan Bogdanovic, the team’s leading scorer after Victor Oladipo injured his knee in January, was held to 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting as the Celtics refused to let him get open for jumpers.

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He noticed the extra attention.

“They did a pretty good job. It’s playoff basketball. They’re grabbing, holding,” he said. “I’ve got to do a better job getting open and send their guys to our bigs to get a hit on them and to have a wide-open shot. Overall, I think if we played defense like we did [Sunday] we’re going to be fine. We’re going to get a chance every single game.

“We started to rush in the third quarter. We’ve got to be calm and connected, especially on those moments where we cannot score the ball. I’ve got to take more responsibility in those moments and try to make some plays for my teammates or create for myself. I’ve got to stay aggressive.”

The Celtics weren’t stellar either on offense. They shot 36.4 percent and converted just 28 field goals, their lowest total since April 4, 2018, against Toronto. It was a bona fide slugfest, and the Pacers came away pleased with their defensive performance.

“It’s unfortunate that [the cold shooting] happened during the playoffs,” guard Wesley Matthews said. “We did good throughout the game, even in the third quarter when we couldn’t make a bucket. We were still able to stack a lot of defensive stops. The thing that’s killed us against this team is transition. Even when we weren’t scoring, we didn’t let that stop what our main focus was, which was getting back on defense and continue to fight, that’s what this team has been doing all season.

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“[Sunday] hurt and it was the first [playoff] game [of the day] so we had all day to think about it and we don’t play until Wednesday, so we got a couple of more days to think about.”

The Pacers said they welcome the physicality. They were the No. 1 defensive team in points allowed in the NBA, and they gave up just 84 points to a club that has prolific scorers. So the goal now is to be ready for the aggressive defense, try to hit more shots, and rely on their defense to eke out Game 2.

“It’s a playoff game, the whistle is not going to be as loose as the regular season,” Matthews said. “We’ve got to get to our spots. We can’t let them fight us off our spots. We missed a lot of shots in that third quarter, we missed nine free throws, we missed 21 threes. You can’t think that’s going to happen again.

“It was physical, but that’s how you want it to be, though. You don’t want the whistle to be blowing all over the place. You want the team that’s supposed to win the game to win the game. We’re not hanging our heads by any means right now.”


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.