New lineup sparks Celtics past Pacers, 94-75

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New lineup sparks Celtics past Pacers, 94-75

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have had impressive wins this season, with most doing little to build momentum going forward.

But Friday's 94-75 victory over Indiana felt different if for no other reason than the lineup being different ... sort of.

Boston's impressive performance was fueled in part by Doc Rivers' decision to put Brandon Bass back in with the first unit, giving the Celtics the same starting five it had when it closed out last season with a 14-5 record that catapulted them into the postseason where they advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

It was a strong game for the Celtics (15-17), a night that could not be dampened even by the ejection of Kevin Garnett in the fourth quarter after he was whistled for a flagrant-two foul (automatic ejection) on Tyler Hansbrough.

Boston, snapping a four-game losing streak with the victory, still have quite a ways to go before they are a legitimate contender again.

But Friday's win was certainly a step in that direction.

The Celtics could not make shots in the first quarter, which has usually led to a huge early deficit that they would spend the rest of the half trying to cut into.

But despite shooting just 29.2 percent from the field in the first, Boston was only down 16-15 courtesy of some tough, gritty defense.

That defensive intensity was sustained in the second quarter. And when you throw a slew of shots starting to fall from several Celtics players, the C's pulled ahead by as many as 15 in the first half before settling on a 47-35 lead.

Two important developments in the first half were critical to Boston's strong play.

For starters, Rajon Rondo was as aggressive as we've seen in weeks offensively, tallying all 10 of his first-half points in the second quarter. He finished with a team-high 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

In addition, Boston was getting a much-needed boost of energy from its bench and Courtney Lee was leading the way.

Lee's defense coupled with some timely shots around the basket gave the Celtics a lift that seemed to energize both his teammates as well as Celtics Nation. He would finished with 13 points.

The third quarter featured the C's missing several shots in the first few minutes. But for a change, it didn't matter because the Celtics defense refused to allow the double-digit cushion built up in the first half to shrink.

And as the fourth quarter rolled along, the Celtics continued to play solid defense while most of their core guys spent most or all of the quarter on the bench, resting up for Saturday night's game at Atlanta.

There will be many theories as to how the Celtics were able to blow out an Indiana team that had won eight of its last 10 games leading up to Friday's game.

But more than anything else, the Celtics finally had players in roles that head coach Doc Rivers envisioned them being at the start of the season.

So it's not a coincidence that Friday's game was arguably their most complete performance of the season.

But Friday's success won't mean much unless they can use it similar to how they did last season and that's rack up multiple wins, home and on the road.

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

CLEVELAND – Gone but definitely not forgotten.

Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury, wasn’t in the Q Arena physically, but his presence – and his face via FaceTime – were inside the locker room in the initial moments following their 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland.

“We called him right after the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He got to celebrate with us a little bit. It’s sad that he’s not here. We wish he was here with us. We just want him to get better.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added, “I didn’t even realize that had happened until later on. one of my first text messages was from Isaiah.  He’s hurting not being out there but he’s completely invested, for sure.”

He initially suffered the injury on March 15 at Minnesota, but re-aggravated it in the first half of Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs. Less than 24 hours later, Thomas was deemed out for the remainder of the playoffs.

Instead of Thomas being the rock of sorts that the Celtics lean on with his play, he has become their rallying cry for the remainder of the playoffs.

“All we can do is play hard for him,” Bradley said. “He was excited with the way we played. We’re a family. Other guys got an opportunity to step up for us. Marcus (Smart) had a big game for us. It could be somebody else next game.”

Smart led the Celtics with a career-high 27 points which included a career-best seven 3’s going down.

And most important, the Celtics avoided going down 3-0 which would have all but sealed their fate in this series considering no team in league history has ever come back for a 3-0 series deficit.

Doing so without Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer and the top regular season scorer in the Eastern Conference, made the win all that more impressive for Boston.

“It meant a lot,” Horford said. “We know, Isaiah gives us so much and gave us so much this year. For him, we definitely wanted to come out and fight for him and our season and our team. It felt good to keep believing despite being down big. Just felt good to win the game and bring life back to our locker room. Because going down 3-0, that’s a death sentence pretty much. This was big.”

Not only to the Celtics players but also to Thomas who also texted head coach Brad Stevens full of excitement following Boston’s surprising win.

“He was excited,” Horford recalled. “He was ecstatic. I know he wishes he was here being part of it. We just need to keep doing it for him and our group and doing the best we can.”