The Indiana Pacers beat Oklahoma City on Friday night, proving they indeed are one of the league’s up-and-coming teams.
A day later, the Boston Celtics showed the Pacers what the next level looks like.
Paul Pierce scored 24 points to help the Celtics beat Indiana 86-72. The veteran-laden Celtics did what winning playoff teams do. They controlled the tempo, played stifling defense and made timely shots all night, at the same time holding Indiana to its lowest point total of the season.
”I thought, defensively, we were sensational tonight,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. ”In a game where shots are not going in and you can still win the game, that means you can trust your defense on nights that it (the offense) doesn’t work.”
Ray Allen added 19 points, Kevin Garnett scored 15 and Rajon Rondo had 12 assists for the Celtics.
Allen came off the bench for just the second time this season, but still made 5 of 11 three-pointers, including 3 of 5 in the second half. He’d missed six games with an ankle injury and has been back for just three games since then.
”We got him good shots and I told him, ‘It’s still going to take a couple of games,”’ Rivers said. ”He’s still trying to get his legs back. I thought in the second half, you could see he had a breakthrough.”
Boston also got a key contribution from Greg Stiemsma, a rookie from Wisconsin who has received increased minutes because Jermaine O’Neal has been out after left wrist surgery. Stiemsma had 10 points, a season-high nine rebounds and five blocks. Much of his damage came against All-Star center Roy Hibbert.
”Greg came in and did a terrific job,” Rivers said. ”Guarding Hibbert is no fun. He’s just a big man and he’s physical, and I thought he did a sensational job.”
Boston snapped a two-game skid and remained ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers at the top of the Atlantic Division.
”They’re playing at a very, very high level,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. ”They have a championship coach and a championship core. They know how to get it done.”
Danny Granger scored 20 points, David West had 16 and Hibbert added nine points and 17 rebounds for Indiana. The Pacers had won four in a row and scored more than 100 points in five consecutive games. Indiana shot 35 percent from the field, made just 5 of 22 three-pointers and committed 19 turnovers.
”This is just a bump in the road for us, and we must put it behind us and get ready for the next game,” Granger said. ”We had several shots that could have dropped, but they didn’t.”
Indiana had the young legs and the depth, but looked tired against the older Celtics. It was the Pacers’ fourth game in five nights, and it finally caught up with them.
”We knew coming into the season the lockout would have an impact on games,” Vogel said. ”You can’t overreact or underreact in any situation.”
Boston took a 22-19 lead, then held the Pacers scoreless for the next 7:23 to take a 36-19 lead.
Boston led 43-33 at halftime. The Pacers shot just 3 for 19 in the second quarter, but hung tough because they only allowed Boston to shoot 30 percent. The Pacers just missed their low half of the season, which was 29 points in the second half against Chicago on March 5. Stiemsma had 10 points, five rebounds and five blocks in the first half alone.
”Here in Indiana, they have played us pretty well,” Rondo said. ”They have beaten us pretty badly. We wanted to come out and establish the pace from the jump defensively, and the offense is going to come.”
In the third quarter, Pierce hit a three, then a pull-up jumper to extend Boston’s lead to 15 points.
Granger made a three of his own and Leandro Barbosa made a layup to cut Boston’s lead to 55-48, but the Celtics held on and led 59-51 at the end of the quarter. Pierce scored 13 points in the third period.
Boston led by double digits for most of the fourth quarter. Indiana tried to make a late surge, and another three by Granger cut Boston’s lead to 74-65. Allen then hit a three at the other end a few seconds later to stop Indiana’s momentum.
”Every time we made a run, it was a Ray Allen three or a Paul Pierce bucket,” Vogel said.
NOTES: Boston G/F Mickael Pietrus sat out with a head injury. … Indiana wore its alternate gold jerseys. … Rondo was issued a flagrant foul in the second quarter for hitting Granger on the top of the head when Granger went up for a layup. … Boston’s JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, who played college ball 65 miles away at Purdue University, did not play.