Celtics rally from 17 down to halt skid with win over Pacers

Jayson Tatum, one game after admittedly not doing the right thing with a deep miss on the last possession of a loss to Indiana, made amends Tuesday night.

The Celtics forward came on strong in the fourth quarter of Boston’s 116-111 win over the Pacers in the back end of their mini-series. Tatum finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds in a game that also featured point guard Payton Pritchard in a finishing role. The rookie finished with 10 points, five assists, five rebounds and a remarkable degree of faith from his coach.

For now, anyway, the blame Celtics players were hoisting on themselves Sunday night — Tatum about his shot selection, Robert Williams after allowing Domantas Sabonis’ game-winning drive — can rest.

They snapped an early-season two-game losing streak, don’t have long to think about it thanks to a back-to-back finish against Memphis on Wednesday night, and understand that before long they’ll probably be fretting again.

Stevens once again stressed last night that with all of the new and missing pieces — Tristan Thompson, Jeff Teague, Pritchard and the rehabbing Kemba Walker — the Celtics still have an identity to discover.

“I’ve said this many times and you guys saw it in the last few weeks — we’re not where ultimately we want to be,” said the Celtics coach. “We’re just not. We’ve got a long way to go to get as good as we need to be. We’re figuring out some things that we think might work for our team, and will have to experiment along the way. We’re different than we’ve been. And to win this game against a team with that kind of talent that’s that good, after dropping a close one the other day, is a good step, but it’s one step. So we’ll see how we play tomorrow night.”

Tatum was knocked off-balance early, especially when Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon sealed him off along the sideline whenever the Pacers trapped the Celtics forward, and once again got off to a slow start.

He had an uneven 10 points, including 1-for-3 shooting from downtown, at halftime, and went into a deep freeze with the rest of his team in the third quarter — yes, another bad third quarter, this time with the Pacers scoring 37 points and, at one stage, taking a 17-point lead.

The key, according to Jaylen Brown, is to not fall into these daunting holes.

“We have to continue to build — and not get down 17,” said the Celtics forward.

The Celtics had cut that Pacers lead to 11 points by the start of the fourth quarter, and kicked out with a 9-0 run over the next 2:43, including a pair of Pritchard drives. Tatum tied the score at 94-94 after stealing the ball at midcourt and coasting in off the break with a finger roll. He scored 10 points over the last 9:17 of the game.

“Keeping composure,” said Tatum. “There was still a lot of game left but we knew what we had to do. We had to pick up the intensity. We had to get some stops and just play together, and that’s what we did. We got a little run going and just kept going.”

Pritchard finds some believers: Four-year college players aren’t supposed to step into the NBA with this kind of a grip on the game, right? And yet there was Pritchard, running the offense down the stretch.

“Payton is the GOAT, man,” said Brown. “Payton came in there with the confidence. (We) definitely needed a spark coming off the bench and Payton was everything and more for us tonight. We’re gonna need more guys to continue to step up. Excellent guy. Excellent job from Payton Pritchard, man. Kid can play and we’re looking forward to him and other guys stepping up as well in the future.”

Equally remarkable is the faith Stevens has developed in the rookie so quickly.

“We had him running all kinds of pick-and-rolls in the second and the start of the fourth,” said the Celtics coach. “He’s poised off that stuff, he makes the right play, he’s deceptive so he can get in and use his body to finish as we saw on a couple of occasions. He’s a guy that knows how to play. We’re awfully small when he’s in there at times late with that group, but I thought he did a good job on both ends tonight.”

Most remarkably, Pritchard has no problem pushing the ball at an NBA pace.

“I think my ball handling allows me to push the pace and be able to pull it out when things aren’t there,” he said. “I hope to continue to do that and push with tempo and get out on the floor because I think that creates even more open shots for our guys and allows us to play with more time on the shot clock rather than walking it up. But as time goes on I think we’ll get better and better at that.”

The Tatum blitzkrieg continues: The Celtics forward especially had trouble early when Indiana’s bruising power forward Sabonis blitzed him off a series of early traps. But Tatum is slowly learning to find the open man on such occasions.

“Get off the ball,” Tatum said of how he has to attack these situations. “I feel like we’ve got too good of a team for that to happen, but if they’re going to do it, make the right play, get other guys open shots. That’s what we was doing.”

Defense rules: The Celtics continued to get hurt in transition and in the paint, though unlike Sunday they exacted as much damage as they absorbed.

“We are an organization and a team that wants to hang our hat on the defensive side of the floor and the fourth quarter I felt like we did a pretty good job and did enough to win,” said Brown. “We have a lot of room to grow so we want to continue to build on it and look forward to being great on a back-to-back going against Memphis. I’m excited. That was a good win for us, it was our first road win. I’m looking forward to the next one.”

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