If the last four games before the All-Star break, all at home, offer a chance at redemption for the Celtics, then they took their first positive step in a while Friday night with a 118-112 win over Indiana.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak.
The Celtics fell into an immediate 18-4 hole, and the flat start appears to have doubled as a slap in the face. They overcame poor shooting nights from Jayson Tatum (4-for-18) and Jaylen Brown (5-for-12) thanks to Kemba Walker’s best scoring night (32 points, 8-for-8 free throw shooting) of the season.
Daniel Theis’ 10-footer from the lane gave the Celtics a seven-point lead with 4:27 left, and with 3:47 left Walker blew into the paint and scored for a 110-101 lead.
Theis blocked a Malcolm Brogdon drive, and down the other end, with 2:48 left, Brown hit two free throws for a nine-point edge. Tatum missed a drive after two Domantas Sabonis free throws, and the Indiana center went back to the line following Tatum’s missed drive.
He cut the Celtics lead to five points (112-107).
Brown missed a late-clock heave, Indiana maintained possession after a lengthy video review of an out-of-bounds ball, and Sabonis muscled the ball past Tristan Thompson.
Brown stepped out of bounds attempting to drive, Aaron Holiday missed from the left corner, and with 35.7 seconds left Theis hit a 3-pointer.
Sabonis hit a 3-pointer that bounced off the top of the backboard cutting the Celtics lead to 115-112.
The Pacers were forced to foul Walker with 11.6 seconds left, and the Celtics guard hit twice for the win.
Tatum’s 3-pointer, raising his shooting total to 3-for-13, gave the Celtics a 92-84 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Jeff Teague started the third after his best first half as a Celtic, and continued to control the pace. It was just enough to preserve that eight-point cushion until, with 9:20 left, Javonte Green boosted the margin to 10 points off a Rob Williams feed.
But Indiana cut the margin down to 98-97 on an Aaron Holiday corner three. Walker answered with a 15-footer, came back from 18 feet for a 102-97 edge, and Brown built on that with a spin out of the post.
Tatum then answered a Myles Turner layup with a short jumper for a 106-101 Celtics lead with 5:34 left. Both sides went cold until, with 4:27 left, Theis hit from the lane for a seven-point edge.
Walker, with 18 first half points,and his backup, Teague (10) kept the Celtics on an aggressive track after initially falling into a 14-point (18-4) hole. But above all, intensified defense was responsible for the narrow 61-60 lead the Celtics took into halftime.
The bench, led by Rob Williams (three blocks) and Payton Pritchard, was able to score when the starters didn’t. Tatum with two points on 1-for-7 shooting, was off to a particularly slow start.
His missed a dunk early in the third continued the pattern — he was now 1-for-8 from the floor — but Tatum and Brown both came out with more focus on the rim.
Five straight points from Theis, including a 3-pointer, was good for a 10-point (77-67) lead with 7:06 left in the third.
That edge melted quickly enough, down to five points over the next three minutes, and then two (79-77) as Tatum and Brown both struggled to hit a shot. At this stage they were a combined 5-for-20, including Tatum’s 1-for-10.
Tatum finally hit from the left corner for an 82-77 lead, and after Sabonis scored, Rob Williams converted a three-point play off a Tatum feed. Sabonis continued to answer the Celtics, though Tatum’s next three was good for a 92-84 halftime lead.