INDIANAPOLIS — If Al Horford and Kyrie Irving combine to shoot 25 percent from the field, it’s usually safe to presume things aren’t going too well for the Celtics.
But Sunday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was a different story.
Horford and Irving struggled mightily from the floor, knocking down only eight of their 32 field goal attempts in Game 4 of Boston’s first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. The Celtics’ bench, however, picked up the slack, scoring a combined 49 points on 69.2 percent shooting en route to a 110-106 victory and the franchise’s first playoff sweep since 2011.
“I was very encouraged by our group and different guys stepping up at different times,” said Horford, who still finished with a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds).
“I think it’s very important to point out that the communication we have amongst each other is that it could be anybody’s night,” added Irving. “We just have to stay steady.”
With 5:25 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Celtics leading by just a point, 84-83, the duo of Gordon Hayward and Marcus Morris opened up the scoring to seal Indiana’s fate.
During a three-minute stretch, the two were perfect from the field and combined for 12 of the team’s next 14 points. The boost gave Boston its biggest lead of the game, 98-87, and left Indiana with only two minutes to recover from an 11-point deficit.
Hayward finished with a team-high 20 points, while Morris tallied 18. Backup point guard Terry Rozier also turned in a double-digit effort with 11 points.The three reserves made 18 field goals, matching the total made by the five starters.
“We have guys [who] want to make plays,” Irving said. “When you put the ball in their hands, they’re able to do that. We’re pretty successful.”
The performance was a reflection of just how dangerous the Celtics can be, given their depth and arsenal of offensive weapons. The Pacers made a point to try and shut down Irving, and they succeeded to some extent. In Games 3 and 4, he shot just 34.3 percent from the field, down from his regular-season average of 48.7, and didn’t surpass 20 points either night.
But the overwhelming amount of attention Irving draws only opens up opportunities for others. And the Celtics were able to capitalize.
“They were focused on [Kyrie], and he just kept getting rid of it,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “The ball whipped around the way it’s supposed to. It was really encouraging. I think we’re a hard team to double if we’re really moving it like that.”
For Irving, the success of his teammates gives him all the more confidence moving forward. While he’s well aware of — and not afraid to acknowledge — his own abilities, he noted how the group is “even more special as a team” when they’re clicking as a unit.
He’s not the only one sensing that things are coming together.
“We’re clicking at the right time,” said forward Jayson Tatum, who had 18 points on 4-for-10 shooting. “We look like the team everybody thought we were going to be the first game. It took some ups and downs for us to get here. I like the way we look now.”
After a regular season marred with chemistry woes and disappointing losses to inferior teams, the team collectively expressed optimism about its current state.
“It’s exciting to know that when the ‘pressure’ is high, or you’re asked to be challenged in a certain situation, that you have guys that can respond to that and respond to that pretty well,” Irving said. “It’s not always going to be perfect. It’s not always going to be the way that you expect it to be individually. But as long as we stick together as a team, whatever result it is, it’s just more manageable when everybody’s together than apart.
“I’m happy that we’re all just diving into it, kind of having a blind faith with each other. Just go out there and just be great.”