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Monday, December 04, 2023

Pacers Eliminate Celtics in NBA Cup's First Knockout Round Game

The Knockout Rounds of the NBA Cup began with Tyrese Haliburton posting the first triple double of his NBA career while leading the Indiana Pacers to a 122-112 win over the Boston Celtics. Haliburton scored a team-high 26 points on 10-18 field goal shooting, passed for a game-high 13 assists, and tied Myles Turner for team-high honors with 10 rebounds. All five Indiana starters scored at least 12 points each as Buddy Hield (21 points), Turner (17 points), Bruce Brown (13 points), and Obi Toppin (12 points) combined with Haliburton to outperform Boston's celebrated starting five (albeit a Boston quintet sans Kristaps Porzingis, who missed his fourth straight game due to a right calf strain). 

Jayson Tatum overcame a slow start to finish with a game-high 32 points on 13-26 field goal shooting while also grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds and dishing for six assists. Jaylen Brown added 30 points and nine rebounds but he did not register an assist. The Celtics dominated the boards 56-41 and outshot the Pacers from the field .474 to .457, but the Celtics committed 17 turnovers while the Pacers only had six turnovers, and the Celtics shot just 12-41 (.293) from three point range, which did not come close to matching the Pacers' blazing 19-40 (.475) three point shooting. The Pacers outscored the Celtics 74-57 in the second half.

The first time these teams met this season, Boston won 155-104 on November 1, so this game represented a 61 point turnaround!

The Pacers did not start well; in a fast paced first quarter, the Pacers fired up 25 shots and the Celtics countered with 24 shots, but neither team shot efficiently: the Pacers made just eight of their field goal attempts (.320) and the Celtics made just 10 field goals (.417). The Celtics led 24-22 while also outrebounding the Pacers 19-10. Brown led all scorers with 10 points on 5-7 field goal shooting, while Tatum had just three points on 1-4 field goal shooting. Turner led the Pacers with eight points on 3-7 field goal shooting, while Haliburton had just two points and one assist. 

The Celtics pulled away in the second quarter, hunting favorable matchups on offense to the tune of 31 points on 14-28 (.500) field goal shooting while also holding the Pacers to 26 points on 8-20 (.400) field goal shooting. Tatum and Brown led the Celtics with 12 first half points each, while Derrick White added 11 points. No Pacer scored in double figures in the first half as the team shot just 16-45 (.356) from the field. 

The Pacers exploded for 37 third quarter points on 15-27 (.556) field goal shooting, while the Celtics not only cooled off from the field (9-22, .409) but they also committed six turnovers after committing seven turnovers in the entire first half. The Pacers shot 11-22 (.500) from three point range in the second half while also battling the Celtics to a 22-22 draw in the rebounding battle. 

The Pacers led 85-78 heading into the final stanza, and they won a fourth quarter shootout 37-34, shooting .545 from the field while the Celtics shot .591 from the field. Tatum split a pair of free throws to put the Celtics up 99-98 at the 4:19 mark, but Haliburton answered with a three pointer, and the Celtics never led again, though they tied the score three more times. Haliburton was sensational in the second half: 19 points on 7-10 field goal shooting, 11 assists, no turnovers.

The Pacers have not appeared on TNT in quite some time, so casual fans may not have seen them play this season prior to tonight. The Pacers not only play at a fast pace in terms of pushing the ball up the court, but they often shoot early in the shot clock, ranking first in the league in field goal attempts, first in two point field goal attempts, and fifth in three point field goal attempts. They are not taking bad shots, as indicated by their elite rankings in field goal percentage (first) and three point field goal percentage (fifth). Not surprisingly, they lead the league in scoring. The flip side of that fast paced, efficient offense is that they rank last in points allowed, last in defensive field goal percentage, and 29th (second to last) in rebounding. There is nothing inherently wrong with playing fast, but it is not possible to win a championship by only playing well at one end of the court. Bill Russell's Boston Celtics won 11 championships in 13 seasons by not only playing textbook fast break basketball but also by playing tenacious defense; for example, their 1965 championship team ranked third in scoring and first in points allowed en route to posting a 62-18 regular season record (the Celtics' best regular season record in the Russell era).

Tonight, the Pacers beat the East-leading Celtics in a shootout, getting a few "timely stops" (as Shaquille O'Neal put it) but not consistently playing solid defense. The Pacers are young and talented, and they are dangerous in a single elimination format because of their potent offense, but until they become better defensively it will be difficult for them to win a playoff series against a contender. 

The Celtics must be disappointed to be eliminated from the NBA Cup and lose out on the bonus money being doled out to teams that advance, but long term they will be fine, assuming that Porzingis comes back soon and avoids further injuries. The Celtics are a balanced, complete team that consistently plays at an elite level at both ends of the court.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:05 PM



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