Paul George and the Pacers bury the Celtics late in a foul-filled 102-91 win
On a night where Demarcus Cousins trade rumors started sparking up again, Paul George gave the Celtics a reminder of what a star player can do for a team. George, who scored 26 with 9 rebounds and 3 assists, hit several crucial shots down the stretch while Boston could barely muster 1 basket in the final 4:30 of Indiana's 102-91 win.
With Avery Bradley out ailing from his leg injury that he suffered against Milwaukee, another opportunity emerged for the Celtics to test a variety of lineups, especially with Marcus Smart returning from his toe injury. Coming in Boston had won 8 straight on the second legs of back-to-backs and would need to do so again to jump back above .500.
It was a game of runs dictated heavily by fouls, with a call for about every minute in the first half (27).
Out of the gate the Pacers jumped on Celtics turnovers and defensive miscues, going up 6-0 similarly to how the Bucks did, while Isaiah Thomas (14 pts) bumped into early foul trouble. Boston found their pace, pulling to within a single possession several times as Evan Turner's (9-13, 20 pts) in-between game yielded three straight buckets.
Nevertheless Celtics turnovers and five trips to the free throw line for Indiana would maintain the Pacers lead into the 2nd quarter, along with a healthy dose of 3 pointers.
The 2nd frame began with a full court drive to the basket by Chase Budinger (10 pts) before Thomas took it into his own hands to fire up the offense through some dead moments. Moving the ball, showing patience, and hitting his shots he quickly brought Boston within three. That pace that Thomas tried drilling into the game didn't last long, as the Pacers began finding their way back to the line.
With that development Brad Stevens bought into the foul game, dictating that Ian Mahinmi be the shooter four times (3-8 in the first half), which allowed the Celtics to get to the line themselves towards the end of the quarter. Marcus Smart's four free throws (6-8 FT on the game) and a Jared Sullinger (11 pts, 11 reb) finger-roll tied the game at 49, before George buried a jumper to make it 51-49 at the half.
Turner and Sullinger came out of halftime firing, bringing the game back to Boston's preferred style of pushing the pace, leading an 11-2 run that put Boston up 7. George quickly sprung into action for Indiana, burying shots all over the floor and generating 9 straight points to put Indiana up again.
The runs through the later half of the quarter again turned to free throw shooting; as Smart, Monta Ellis (13 pts), and others continued finding ways back to the line. The physicality escalated to the point where Thomas and George got tangled up on a loose ball and the latter threw his arm in frustration, earning him a technical foul. The C's entered the bonus and the score sat at 75-71.
With 23 free throws buried through 3 quarters, there were a stunning 46 foul calls between the two as the Pacers entered the 4th up 81-76. RJ Hunter (5 pts) brought Boston within 2 on a ridiculously deep 3-pointer, but the push by Boston was again met by Indiana pushing back on the offensive end to go ahead 89-81
The Celtics began charging back around the middle of the quarter with Turner, Hunter, and Amir Johnson (7 pts) buckets bringing the game to 90-87 before George led a 8-0 run to put Indiana up 11 with 5 minutes to go. Then the turnovers set in; two from Sullinger, two from Thomas, and a horrible one from Turner as the C's deficit increased.
Boston only scored once in crunch time and the Pacers rode the wave, sending the Celtics to 3-4 with the win. The C's shot 23-32 from the line compared to Indy's 20-31, with 54 personal fouls between the two, a factor that dragged down the pace all night long.