BOSTON – Having already clinched a playoff spot prior to Wednesday’s game, no one would have been shocked to see them come out and play fat-and-happy basketball.
Especially against an Indiana Pacers team that’s hungry for a win to bolster their playoff position.
But the Celtics continue to show us that they are a different team than the one that far too often failed to stack strong performances on top of one another.
That was not the case on Wednesday as they pulled away in the second half for an impressive 109-100 win over the Pacers.
Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 25 points and five assists. His backcourt mate Avery Bradley was solid as well, scoring 18 points to go with eight rebounds. Jae Crowder and Al Horford each had 15 points while Kelly Olynyk had another strong showing off the bench with 11 points and eight rebounds along with four assists.
With the win, Boston (46-26) swept the regular season series 3-0. While it’s unlikely they will finish in a tie record-wise with the Pacers, there is the possibility that they could meet in the first round of the playoffs next month.
Knowing they haven’t lost to the Pacers all season could be a huge mental plus for Boston if in fact their first-round foe was Indiana.
Wednesday’s game was the first between these two with most of their respective rosters at full strength.
And the Celtics at full strength, regardless of the opponent, have been pretty tough to beat.
But the Pacers (36-35) weren’t going to make this easy for Boston, even as they fell behind by as many as 17 points to the Celtics.
Paul George, who led all scorers with 37 points, began to lead the Pacers back into the game with a strong fourth quarter showing.
And when Boston’s defense tried to adjust to George’s jacuzzi-hot scoring, he got others like Jeff Teague involved.
Teague, who had 25 points, made a 3-pointer that cut Boston’s lead to 93-86 with 6:31.
That was enough for Celtics head coach Brad Stevens who called a time-out.
After a pair of Isaiah Thomas misses, the Celtics got a little more cushion following a mid-range jumper by Olynyk.
While Indiana continued to get timely offensive rebounds, the Celtics went into bend-but-don’t-break mode defensively down the stretch.
And while the Pacers certainly were in the game, there was never a moment down the stretch when Boston’s impending victory was in doubt.
Both teams set the tone defensively in the first half which was a relatively low-scoring affair.
That should not come as a surprise considering how well each team has played of late at that end of the floor.
Since the All-Star break, Boston has the third-best defense in the NBA while the Pacers aren’t far behind, coming in at No. 6.
A 3-pointer by Bradley to close out the second quarter gave Boston a 49-42 lead at the half.
Boston’s control of the game remained solid through most of the third, but an 8-3 spurt by the Celtics to close out the third put ahead 88-74 going into the fourth.