By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After two straight losses, the Celtics needed a victory on Tuesday night. Or at the very least, they had to show us some fight.
Boston did both in their rematch with the Pacers and came away with its best win of the young season — a 116-111 comeback victory in Indiana. After Boston let Sunday night’s game in Indy slip away, Tuesday night saw the Celtics erase a 17-point third quarter deficit thanks to some lockdown defense and a determination to own the inside.
Boston trailed by 17 points late in the third quarter, as coming out of halftime was once again the Celtics’ kryptonite. The Pacers dropped 37 points in the frame, outscoring Boston by 12 points.
But the Celtics turned things up to 11 in the final minutes of the frame, and that carried through to the final buzzer. After going down 88-71, Boston went on a furious 45-23 over the final 15 minutes of the game.
“We played with a little bit of desperation since we were down 17 and didn’t want to go out like that,” said swingman Jaylen Brown, who scored 20 points and had four steals in the victory. “For us to respond that way was great for this group.”
“I don’t know what the lead was for them but it sure felt like it dissipated pretty quickly. And then we were able to keep guarding,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “I thought our bigs did a good job late being up on the screens on [Victor] Oladipo, helping us at the rim in a couple of cases. That’s a good team win.”
It’s not just that the Celtics got a much-needed win, but it’s how they got that much-needed win. The comeback was sparked by an effort to go to the basket, and it paid off in a big way. Boston shot 10-for-18 in the final quarter, with seven of those makes coming in the paint. The C’s attempted just three triples in the quarter.
Jayson Tatum didn’t attempt any threes in the fourth, and instead put his head down and charged to the hoop. Rather than settling for contested stepbacks, Tatum showed off his full array of moves around the basket — and he was nearly unstoppable.
Tatum finished with a team-high 27 points, 14 of which came in the fourth. His aggressiveness on offense led to seven free throws in the frame, and 10 overall in the game. Tatum had gotten to the line just four times in Boston’s three previous games entering play Tuesday night.
Overall, the Celtics shot 37 freebies in Tuesday night’s win. They attempted just 22 threes for the night.
And it wasn’t just the Jays leading the charge for Boston, either. Rookie point guard Payton Pritchard continues to impress in the early days of his NBA career, logging 27 minutes off the bench. That included some crunch time minutes late in the game, a sign that the 22-year-old has earned Stevens’ trust. Pritchard finished with 10 points, five assists and five rebounds, and a boatload of hustle.
The Pacers almost pulled off a comeback of their own, pulling within two points with under 30 seconds left. But the Boston defense clamped down even more when it mattered most, with Brown and Marcus Smart sealing the victory with a pair of late steals.
“We’re 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,” added Brown. “I’m looking forward to the next one.”
The Celtics were a mixed bag over the first three games of the season, a little bit of good with a lot more bad. Tuesday night was far from perfect, and they shouldn’t have to get down by 17 and feel some desperation to play the way they did to close the game.
But the Celtics that we saw rip off a great comeback against the Pacers is the kind of team that we should see whenever the C’s hit the floor. Tuesday night was a nice reminder that kind of team does indeed exist.