Just two nights after losing a hard fought affair to the Indiana Pacers, the Celtics found themselves in an eerily similar situation. Against the same team, in the same stadium, and leading by just one score, the Celtics needed to find a way to stop the Pacers off a sideline inbound play. Two nights ago, Pacers star forward Domantas Sabonis received the ball off the inbound, faked a handoff, and got an easy lane to the basket that resulted in an and-one layup that gave the Pacers the lead for good. Faced with the same situation last night, the Celtics made sure that wouldn’t happen again.
The Pacers ran pretty much the same play, but Sabonis hands the ball off to Justin Holiday instead of keeping it himself. Brown gets caught on a screen, but recognizes what is happening just in the nick of time and is able to rip the ball from Holiday and convert a fastbreak layup. The Celtics were able to recognize what was happening, and prevent it from happening to them again.
The last play wasn’t the only similarity between the two back-to-back matchups against the Pacers. The Celtics held the lead heading into halftime again, and then proceeded to implode in the third quarter, this time falling into a 17 point hole, before storming back to make it a contest in the fourth quarter. The Celtics comeback was very impressive, as they managed to erase that 17 point deficit in a little over five minutes of game action, displaying the resiliency and grit of this team.
The fourth quarter was heavily influenced by Jayson Tatum, as he scored 14 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter alone to help the Celtics regain the lead. Tatum has struggled with his efficiency so far in the season, but he shot 9-17 and was able to get to the free throw line 10 times. If he can continue to shoot efficiently it will help the Celtics offense, which has looked clunky at times, operate a little bit smoother.
While Tatum did a lot of the heavy lifting in the fourth quarter, he wasn’t operating on his own in this one. Five Celtics scored double digit points in this one, which was a welcome sight considering the struggles of some of the bench options over the past couple games. Jaylen Brown put up 20 points of his own, although he struggled from the free throw line, shooting 5-10 from the line. Those are free points, and Brown needs to continue to work on capitalizing on those opportunities.
The other double digit scorers were Marcus Smart, Tristan Thompson, and Payton Pritchard. Pritchard in particular provided a much needed spark off the bench when the game seemed to be slipping away from the C’s. He finished with 10 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds, as he continues to prove he’s deserving of more minutes off the bench. Whereas we have seen Pritchard display his knockdown 3-point shooting tendencies, he showed his ability to get the basket and hit some difficult layups. His minutes have continued to increase since the season’s start, and with performances like this it’s easy to see why.
Despite the nice comeback win, the Celtics still have a lot to work on. The offense has been consistently going through dry spells where it seems as if no one can find the bottom of the bucket. Their defensive effort has also been lacking for much of the first four games. The encouraging sign is that after allowing 37 points in the third quarter, the defense dialed up the heat, and only allowed 17 points in the fourth quarter. Good defense leads to good offense, so if the Celtics can continue to force opponents to miss shots, it will make a world of difference on the offensive side of the court as well.
The Celtics will follow this up with their first back-to-back of the season, as they return home to TD Garden for a duel with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies just recently lost star point guard Ja Morant for the next month or so, so they come into this matchup with the Celtics at far less than full strength. Coach Brad Stevens may have to get creative with his rotation in this one, as Tatum did log 40 minutes in last night’s game, so some of the reserve players may see more action against Memphis. With the Grizzlies struggling with the injuries, the Celtics will look to fight off the fatigue of the back-to-back and pick up their second win in a row.