Second-half run not enough as Celtics lose to Pacers, 97-91

Returning home after a road trip that saw the Boston Celtics split two games between a loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and a win against the Washington Wizards last night, coach Brad Stevens and his team we're hopeful even as they prepared to face off against Victor Oladipo and a tough Indiana Pacers squad on the second night of a back-to-back.

Entering the game with the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference, Indiana has actually been quite the surprise this season as not many people around the NBA expected coach Nate McMillan and his team to even be in the hunt for the playoffs after trading Paul George over the past summer. The Pacers we're able to carry that unexpected performance into TD Garden as they got off to a hot start and we're able to hold off the C's despite a valiant comeback effort as they were eventually bested, 97-91.

As the Green missed their first five shots to start off and Oladipo got the first points of the game, Boston fans who went to see it in person got a very early taste as to how most of the first quarter would go for the Green (and whole four quarters for Indiana). Seemingly out of position on a lot of plays, missing open shots, turning the ball over in transition, and getting beat to a lot of the loose balls, the C's we're shooting themselves in the foot very early against a very well-coached team that makes it very hard to come back.

Finishing with 8 points in the quarter, Oladipo led the Pacers attack early and was very fearless going up against Boston's defensive front. Seemingly getting into the paint when he wanted and causing the Celtic defense to collapse leading to open buckets, it was pretty obvious early that the former University of Indiana product would be the ignition to most of Indiana's offense. Not with much of an answer through the first period, the C's ended up letting up 30 points against the meager 16 points they put up as their stars couldn't get in flow especially Kyrie Irving who finished scoreless to that point.

Continuing what they started the first quarter, the Pacers looked to try to end things before the game even reached half. Scoring five of the second period's first six baskets, Indiana kept widening the margin to over 20 points as their bench including familiar foe from last year's playoffs, Bojan Bogdanovich, got going.

Celtics fans will probably remember him from going absolutely unconscious for stretches during the series against Washington when it seemed like Bogdanovich couldn't miss. Trying to get back into the act and recreate some of that confidence against Boston, the Croatian forward added a couple baskets along with perennial enigma, Lance Stephenson, to keep distance. With Kyrie making his return to the court late in the second, Uncle Drew was able to finally get on the board just before the half ended but ultimately, Stevens' squad had still dug itself a pretty steep hole going into the break, 59-38.

What probably was most disconcerting about the first half for C's fans had to be the defensive lapses and poor communication at times. There we're a few instances where it seemed like players completely disregarded a switch or guys would lose their man to a screen with no help. Against a team as hungry as the Pacers right now, this is no formula to win games as they'll take advantage and they did early. However as they have most of the season, Stevens and the Celtics started to find a groove and began to gear up for a comeback.

Almost completely flipping the script on itself, Boston looked like a completely different team to start off the second half as they came out of the locker room firing.

Moving the ball around a lot more smoothly and working it around to position good shots, second-year Celtic, Jaylen Brown, and Irving we're able to make their imprint early in the third quarter as they were on the attack scoring 21 points in the frame between them.

At one point it seemed like the Celtic duo couldn't miss and Indiana's huge lead began to dwindle more and more as the clock ticked. Cutting down the Pacer-lead within single digits before the starters we're pulled for the bench, 76-67, Terry Rozier and Semi Ojeleye tried to get into the act as well and helped erase it almost completely by the start of the fourth, 76-72, after Scary Terry made drained a buzzer-beater from half-court.

Almost having already mounted the comeback, anybody watching this game had to have the sense at the time that the Celtics would probably pull ahead and would be on their way to another ridiculous win. As the Green have came back eight times this year when going down 15+, the Pacers’ then four-point lead seemed doomed.

Finally able to put a stop to the Boston’s run, Indiana got in tune on defense but also struggled to score themselves as both teams went back and forth trading missed shot after missed shot. The Celtics actually were able to get the game tied up at 80-80 after what seemed like a day-long scoreless stretch (it was really only like four minutes) but ultimately, between some untimely turnovers by Al Horford, along with a technical foul, and some missed opportunities, the team fell short.

The Pacers were simply able to get enough shots down the stretch from youngsters like Myler Turner and especially from the aforementioned Oladipo. Having already totaled 27 points by the start of the fourth quarter, the first-time All-Star continued his hot shooting night by adding a few more baskets to bring his total to 35 after by the final buzzer.

In the end, it was a pretty tough game to let slip for the Green as they had made another great effort to get back in that one. Coming back from 26 down is no joke at all and you have to love the team's willingness to fight, but at the end of the day, coach Stevens is probably kicking himself for not being able to get his team rolling earlier. To make things worse, the C's actually lost their number-seed one atop the East in the process to the rival Raptors after dropping the game tonight.

All things weren't completely bad for the Green though as along with nearly mounting that comeback in the second half, the team showed a drastic improvement on the defensive side of the ball. Only letting up 40 points in the final two frames, any time a team can slow an opponent's offensive output to that rate should find itself in the game at the end ... even one's that may dig themselves what seems like too deep of a hole to begin with. Obviously the team doesn't want to have to make a knack of these comebacks but if they can gauge that type of defense and focus on playing up to that par earlier in games, the Celtics should find themselves in better positions to win games late.

With their first jersey retirement in a quarter century since Larry Bird's on Sunday night, the franchise will enjoy bringing back long-time fan-favorite, and the Truth, Paul Pierce, to hang his #34 in the rafters as the Green will face-off against LeBron James, and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers. A ceremony of such significance that will bring so many fans to the Garden will give current players an in-sight to the opportunity they have in regard to the legacy they can leave here in Boston. Let's hope the game, along with the ceremony, are both enjoyable for fans.

Follow Brendan on Twitter for more Celtics/NBA info at @brendan_ronan_

Photos via Brian Babineau, Getty Images