The Boston Celtics won the first game of their back-to-back with the Indiana Pacers in dominant fashion. The team with the best record in the NBA entered Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indiana with something to prove. After losing their last matchup with the Pacers in the In-Season Tournament, the Celtics avenged their defeat with a 118-101 beatdown.
All-NBA forward Jayson Tatum cooked Indiana for 38 points on 8-of-13 shooting from three while running mate Jaylen Brown tallied 31 points of his own. After Kristaps Porzingis left the game in the first quarter with an eye injury, Al Horford stepped up in his absence with 10 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists. The Godfather put his versatile skill set on full display for the traveling sea of green that matched the volume of most Pacers fans in the arena.
Despite the loss, Pacers point guard and franchise player Tyrese Haliburton gave the C’s some well-deserved praise in his postgame press conference.
"That’s a really good team, so it’s good to see where we stack up against the best team in the league. Continue to chip away, it’s all part of it … the good thing is we play them on Monday, so we just gotta be ready for that."- Tyrese Haliburton
Haliburton had himself an uncharacteristic night, shooting 5/17 with 17 points. 17 points on 17 shots simply won’t cut it against the best teams in the league. Haliburton and the Pacers found that out the hard way.
After dropping 150 points with a franchise-record 50 assists against the Hawks the night before, the Pacers mustered just 101 total points against the formidable Celtics defense. The No. 1 offense in the NBA shot an abysmal 8-of-42 (19.0%) from three – not ideal for a team that ranks top five in both 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage this season.
Rick Carlisle calls Boston Celtics starting five best in the league
Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle also shouted out the Celtics for their dominant starting lineup and how well that group defends.
"They've got the best starting five in basketball. I think it’s pretty clear. One through five, they do everything … it’s a big task to try to contain them, and it’s a big task to try to get great shots against them."- Rick Carlisle
Tatum has begun the new year on fire. Through three January matchups, the two-way superstar has averaged 32.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. Still just 25 years old, Tatum has led Boston to a league-best 28-7 record – close to a 66-win pace. He showcased his red-hot form throughout the Pacers victory, raining down three after three with no mercy.
Although his individual production has risen in recent weeks, Tatum's focus lies on one single goal: an NBA championship.
"I don't really look for that praise anymore. I’ve accomplished a lot in this league, and I’m truly at the point where I want to get over that hump … I want to help us win a championship. What I’m doing … I might not win MVP, but I’m just trying to help us continue to be the best team in the league … If people recognize that and see it, I appreciate it. If they don’t, that’s okay."- Jayson Tatum
In a season where Tatum has seen his points per game take a slight hit, teammate Derrick White has enjoyed a career year in shooting, scoring, and many other areas of the game. Meanwhile, Porzingis has shot above 50% from the field for the first time in his career with an unbelievable 53.6% clip.
Without sacrifices in scoring and usage from Tatum and Brown, the Celtics would not operate as smoothly as they do right now. Boston currently boasts the No. 2 offense and the No. 2 defense in the league. The C’s will continue their quest for an 18th NBA championship as they take on Indy once again in the second half of this enthralling back-to-back.