Unlike opening night against Milwaukee, Jayson Tatum missed.
Down by one with the clock winding down, Tatum once again settled for a step-back three-pointer, this time over Malcolm Brogdon. The only difference is that this time he missed and the Celtics lost, falling to 1-2 on the young season.
Just like in the season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics had a lead and let it slip away. Going into halftime the Celtics led by six, but by the end of the third quarter, the Pacers had jumped out to a five-point lead. This has already become a concerning trend this season, having let teams back into two of their three games.
In that third quarter, Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren took over the game, scoring a combined 21 points to pull the Pacers ahead. From that point on, the Celtics were playing catch-up, and although they were able to take the lead with 11.8 seconds remaining on a Marcus Smart layup following some great defense by Robert Williams, an and-one layup from Domantas Sabonis ended up being the dagger.
That foul, on Williams, was the first mistake he had made all night. He played by far his best game of the season, finishing with 12 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks in 22 minutes. After showing flashes in his first two seasons, if Williams can prove to be a reliable contributor it would be a great addition to the Celtics bench.
Speaking of the bench, Jeff Teague and Payton Pritchard continued their hot starts. Although Teague did not make a field goal, he made nine of his 10 free throw attempts, and seemed like a stabilizing force when the Pacers were making their runs. As for Pritchard, he scored 13 points on perfect 5-5 shooting, including 3-3 from behind the arc. While Aaron Nesmith was touted as the better shooter of the Celtics draft picks, Pritchard has earned a spot in the rotation by proving that he is more than capable of nailing his spot-up threes.
The immediate second guess after this game is Tatum’s shot selection on the final possession. Down by only one, he settled for a three-pointer, instead of getting into the midrange and going to work over a smaller defender as he had done for much of the night. After the game, he admitted that it would have been better to put some pressure on the defense rather than taking the tougher shot. And while it’s tough to swallow now, this is the future of the Celtics. In close games, the ball is going to be in Tatum’s hands, and it will be up to him to make something happen. In this game, he missed. But as he’s already shown this year and even last year in the postseason, more often than not he’s going to find a way to be successful. Still, it would have been nice to see him at least try to drive or back down Brogdon to get to a more comfortable shot.
The loss also highlighted another concern with this team – when Tatum and Brown aren’t both playing at their best, this team struggles to score. While Tatum ended up with 25 points, he only shot 9-21. As for Brown, he had 18 points on 8-13 shooting, but it felt like he could have done more. Early in the game, he was dominating from the midrange, but then he stopped going for those looks. 18 points is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but after averaging 30 in the first two games, it was a big drop off. And when combined with Tatum’s inefficient night, it was too much to overcome. There may be many more nights like this until Kemba returns, so hopefully those two will continue to play at a high level and other players will contribute to winning.
After this tough loss, the C’s will have an immediate shot at redemption, as their next game is once again versus the Pacers. Round two of the matchup is Tuesday at 7 p.m.