Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers Jan 17, 2003 7:30pm
Tonight's game followed the somewhat impressive win over the Atlanta Hawks the night before.  It was somewhat impressive because the Celtics were frankly expected to beat the Hawks.  Given the way they had played lately there were few such lofty expectations against the Indiana Pacers, currently the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Fortunately, I'm one of those people with really lofty expectations when it comes to the Boston Celtics.

From the very beginning, the game appeared to have an extremely positive note as the Celtics broadcast opened with Paul Pierce doing some kind of rap song about the Boston Celtics.  With any luck, no one will offer him a record contract.

Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn mentioned that the Celtics had signed Grant Long, No. 43, for the rest of the season.  Tony Battie was injured and would not start tonight, while Tony Delk was recovering and would definitely not start, but it was unknown whether or not he would play-much less be a factor in the game.  On the other paw, Indiana looked distressingly healthy.

Although the Celtics had a 1-3 road trip, it could easily have been 3-1.  They were competitive in every game except the one against Dallas.  Following the dismantling of Atlanta, I felt that the Celtics were getting back to where they needed to be.  The unexpected emergence of J.R. Bremer was a very pleasant surprise indeed.  I hoped we would see more of him during this game.
 

First quarter:

The Indiana Pacers had the best record in Eastern conference to this point of the season, at 20-5.  They were 8-4 on the road versus Eastern Conference teams.  The game began with both Boston and Indiana moving the ball well, playing good defense, and generally doing the things one expects a basketball team to do-with one small exception.  Neither seemed able to score a basket in the opening couple of minutes of the game.

The Celtics were getting into the rebounding early, and that is always a good sign.  J.R. Bremer did in fact start the game, and seemed intent on proving that his performance in Texas was not a fluke.  The first-and at this stage of the game, only-point was scored by Indiana by Jermaine O’Neal, who went 1-2 at the free throw line with 10:22 to go in the first quarter.

Time continued to move on with neither team able to score a field goal, and the Celtics weren’t even able to draw a foul.  That foul situation incidentally, did not improve the rest of the game.  In the early part of the game, the Celtics were driving to the hoop and getting nothing.  So they decided to go back to plan “A”.  The three-point shot didn't go either.

The positive sense I had experienced at the beginning of the game was now being replaced by some worry, as there was 9:07 to go in the quarter and Boston had yet to score a single point.  The only good thing was the Indiana was in almost as bad a situation.  They went back to the free throw line, O'Neal shooting once again.  Vin Baker scored the first Celtic points.

What a relief!

After that point, the scoring heated up on both sides.  Paul Pierce began what would become a Celtics scoring barrage.  The officials also made clear that foul calls were going to go in the traditional manner - that is to say, that anyone who was not a Celtics player would get calls going their way.

Is at any wonder that Tommy Heinsohn has so many interesting things to say about these guys?  I suspect that the only reason he uses words like “ludicrous” is because of the regulations governing the use of profanity on network television.

I was hopeful that the recent injuries would expand Coach O’Brien’s use of the bench in this game.  Vin Baker was making positive contributions to the team-at long last.  Antoine Walker then started shooting threes.

Against Indiana, the three-point shot is actually a very good idea for the offense.  Indiana likes to clutter up the lane, and while they love shooting the three, they don't always defend it very well.  With 5:14 to go, Tony Delk and Walter McCarty came into the game.  It was the first time I could remember that Baker wasn't sitting down because of a foul problem.

The Celtics slowly began to build a lead and to take command of the game, led by Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker.  Ron Mercer, who used to play for the Celtics, was doing his best to show that Boston made a mistaken letting him go.  Harrington was proving to be a deadly shooter.  Then Walker gave Harrington a demonstration of what precision shooting really was.

As the first quarter progressed, the Celtics were playing reasonable defense against a team that was known for generating tremendous offense.  At the other end Pierce and Walker were beginning to wreak havoc against the Indiana defense.

The first quarter moved incredibly fast, with the Celtics making a run and gun offense that seemed more suited to the Dallas Mavericks into the Indiana Pacers.  Fortunately, the Celtics offense was working much better against Indiana than it had against Dallas.

The Celtics defense took awhile to start digging in, but once it did they combined with deadly outside shooting in began to build a lead toward the end of the first quarter.

The first quarter ended as the Celtics established a lead of 29-23.  This was exactly the kind of a game that I hoped to see from Celtics for some time.  They showed that they could run with the best.  The question was, could they keep this up for four quarters?

In the first quarter, Boston out shot Indiana from the field 48 % - 44 %; and out rebounded them 11-6.  The Celtics had also gone 5-7 on 3-point shots, while Indiana went 1-4.

Second-quarter:

It was a sign of how well things were going that Paul Pierce was sitting on the bench to begin the second quarter.  Antoine Walker took charge of the offense at this stage of the game.  As he went to the free throw line for the first time this evening, he revealed the only part of his game with which I had any problems tonight - his free throws.  For some reason, he was hitting all kinds of shots from the field, but simply could not get his act together at the line.  Normally Anton is a good free throw shooter, but he went 0-everything on free throws.  But Walker more than made up for his problems of the free throw line with his productivity throughout the rest of his game.

Kedrick Brown came and got a really nice high rebound, showing that his foot seems to be well on its way to being completely healed.  J.R. Bremer then proceeded to score a three-point shot of his own; demonstrating his outside range once again.

Given the poise and command that the Celtics held throughout his game so far, it was amazing that things were as close as they were.  When the timeout was called early in the second quarter, the Celtics held a 38-30 lead.  While Indiana had upped their field goal percentage to 46, Boston was shooting at 52 percent.

Bruno Sundov made his appearance, rather surprisingly to me, at such an early stage of game.  It became apparent by this point of the game that while Pacers were not keeping track on the floor, they were more than making up the difference of the free throw line.  It seemed like every shot Walker tried went down, an amazing display.  Shots, jump shots, reverse shots, and even one as he was behind the backboard.  Oh yes, and he made his share of three-point shots.

We were nearly halfway through the second quarter when Pierce was back on the floor.  That's how good game was going.  However Pierce did need a couple of shots to warm up, as he was little cool from sitting on the bench for so very long.  J.R. Bremer appears to be very comfortable hitting the outside shots as well as going to the hoop - that's really nice to see.  What wasn’t so nice was watching Kedrick Brown get his fourth foul of the game.  One of these days, the officials are going to call the game properly and consistently, and Tommy Heinsohn and I will both drop dead from the shock.

While Pierce and Walker certainly weren’t doing this alone, they were doing the lion’s share of the scoring for the Celtics.  Pierce was more active on defense that I'd seen him in some time.  Bruno made a nice dunk with 5:17 to go in the quarter - at long last!  I was getting tired of seen him hoist the three!  Now if only we can get him to do this more often...

Over a short stretch of a couple of minutes, the Celtics had pushed their shooting percentage to 53 percent, while lowering Indiana to 41 percent.  Bruno often got himself a rebound.  I think he's getting hang of this game.  This is not to say the Pacers were going to lay down and die because Walker Pierce were both having a good night - as was Eric Williams, who made a nice trip to the hoop.  Throughout the game, the Pacers moved the ball up court much more quickly than the Celtics did for the most part.

But even on broken plays, the Celtics - often in the form of Walker or Pierce - managed to score a basket.  This was one of those nights when things were going Boston's way; at least everything important.  Baker demonstrated hard work at both ends of the court, by scoring a basket at one end and getting a defensive rebounded at the other end.  Walker had a clear breakaway basket, except for the fact that an Indiana defender wrapped his arm around Walker's neck, and dragged him away from the basket.  Had this been the other way around, we'd be looking at a flagrant foul.  As it was, I suppose the Good Guys were fortunate to go to line at all.  The Celtics had built the lead up to 10 points over course of the quarter.  On several occasions, but Indiana made a small run in an attempt to bring the score closer.

Ron Artest of Indiana did his very best to not only to make a foul, but to face possible charges of groping.  The Celtics led 57-51 at the end of the second quarter.
 

HALFTIME

Cookie Break!!

“New England Sports Tonight” featured are rather irritating fellow named Pete Shepherd from WEEI radio, was main purpose in life at that moment appeared to be venting his spleen in the general direction of Vin Baker.  God, I missed Johnny Most!

The Celtics had done an amazing job throughout the first half, holding Indiana below their normal shooting average, while going for scoring of their own.  It was unusual, because most teams, by this time, had learned to put at least two people on Pierce and Walker, if not three.  The two of them must of felt like they were being released from prison.  They seemed to be scoring at will.

Other Celtics players such as Bremer, Baker, and Williams did contribute - but this was overwhelmingly one of those nights when it was the Pierce & Walker show.

In the first half Boston's field goal percentage was 51 percent vs. 42 percent for the Pacers.  Boston was 8-13 on three-point shots, while Indiana was 2-8.  Indiana did out rebound the Celtics, 21-18; and was leading in assists.  Both teams had been mildly careless with the ball, with Indiana holding a slight edge in turnovers, 5-4.  Paint points belonged to Boston, 22-12.  Given the domination in the paint in particular - and the three-point shots - I was amazed that the Celtics only led by six points.  That can be attributed to the many trips to the free throw line that the Pacers were taking.

The big test was yet to come, however.  The Celtics would have to sustain this throughout the second half.  Indiana was not the kind of team that you could take any rest breaks against.  You played 48 minutes, or you lost.  Sometimes, you lost even when you played the 48 minutes.

Cookie Break!!
 

Third-quarter:

They third quarter began somewhat slowly, as both teams were little bit ragged coming out of the halftime.

Indiana was certain to make adjustments at halftime to counteract the devastating effect of the Celtics outside shooting.  With any luck, I hoped that the Celtics would likewise be making adjustments to deal with Indiana's ability to score more often than I really liked to see—relatively lower percentages notwithstanding.  Antoine Walker or, at least, seemed to be anticipating the changes by going straight to the hope as the quarter opened.

Indiana continued to be able to run the fast break, a source of great concern.  The Good Guys continued to have this annoying habit of trotting up the court, instead of running as if there was a 24-second clock.  Walker proved that he was still shooting hot in the third quarter, hitting another three-point shot, prompting Tommy Heinsohn to burst into a rendition of “Tonight” from “West Side Story”.

Out of respect to both Paul and Tom Heinsohn, I will reserve comment on their respective musical abilities.  Let’s just say that as musicians, they’re great basketball players and leave it at that.  (Though I’ve admired Heinsohn’s painting ability for some time).

The Celtics continued to build a lead in the first part of the third quarter.  Indiana was not shooting well as the quarter opened, and the Celtics did their best to take complete advantage of that situation.  Once again Pierce went to the hoop with not so much as a double team anywhere in sight.  How sweet it is!

How effective were Pierce and Walker on the offensive end?  Let me put it this way: with 7:25 to go in the third-quarter, the Boston Celtics had scored 68 points.

Forty-five of those points came from Walker and Pierce.

By this stage of the game, Boston was opening up a ten point lead.  Both Pierce & Walker were making some incredible shots.  Vinnie Baker, Eric Williams and Tony Delk were all working hard on the defensive boards.  While Baker still looked a little shaky at times, he seemed to be getting a little more into the flow of things.  Or maybe I’m just an optimistic beagle.  At the halfway for the third quarter the Celtics stopped running.  They were content to merely trot up the floor.  This wasn't as big a problem as it might be, so long as the Celtics were able to score has often as they had been.  So far, the dreaded “third quarter scoring drought” had yet to occur.

Realizing that basketball is a five-man game, Walter McCarty made a very good offensive effort at one end, running off the court should try to get the rebound.  Then, when Indiana got the ball, Walter zoomed up the court in time to take a charge.  Heinsohn gave him a “Tommy Point”—I bet he would have preferred an ice pack for his butt right then…

Kedrick Brown came back into the game with just over five minutes left, and continued to provide help on the boards.  His jumping ability seems to be increasing with each game.  Walter then went in to the hoop on the next play, made a nice fake and got the basket.  It was odd to me that the Celtics were moving faster on defense than they were offense.  Walter McCarty especially continued to play outstanding defense.

If Pierce went to the free throw line is often as he really should have, this game would have taken at least another 20 minutes just for the free throws he would have taken.

Yet for some reason, the referees seemed determined to calls as many fouls as possible against the Celtics on the other and.  I'm making something of an issue of free throws because of the huge disparity.  The Celtics did well to overcome the tremendous advantage that the officials handed the Pacers.  Granted, that in the first half, the Celtics were primarily playing an outside game - which generally doesn't lead to the free throw line.  But the third quarter had featured the Celtics going to the hoop on a regular basis, and they still couldn't get a foul called their way.

Despite the best efforts of the Pacers - and the overly helpful officials - the Celtics managed to close out the third quarter maintaining the lead at 79-72.  Walker and Pierce were still dominating, having scored 52 of those 79 points.

Over the first 3/4 of the game, Boston had shot 47% while holding Indiana to 42%.  The Celtics were living outside the three-point arc; going 9-21 while Indiana was 2-13.  The Good Guys still held the lead in paint points, though to a lesser extent, 38-24.  Indiana normally shot 46%, so holding them to 42% over 3/4 was a rather impressive defensive effort.

Fourth-quarter:

The Celtics were inexplicably slowing things down, and looking foolish in the process.  Harrington made Walker look really foolish, when he allowed Walker to back into him, then moved away as he felt Walker's weight leaning in.  Antoine ended up on the floor, and Indiana ended up with the ball.  Eric Strickland made a three-point shot to complete Antoine's embarrassment on that play.  Personally, I’ve wondered what more people don’t do that.  I find it annoying when Walker turns his back to the basket and leans backward, trying to drive his defender closer to the hoop.  If he sat on the floor a few times, he might try something different.

Indiana had decided to make their stand in the fourth.  They had done the sort of thing before, against some very good teams - and now there were going for Boston.  Indiana began closing what had been a ten-point lead to less than three with 10:25 to go.  The Pacers continued their speedy assault, even as the Celtics insisted on slowing down and taking shots far more questionable than those they'd taken in the previous three quarters.  Given the combination of Indiana's run, Boston's lack of running, and the officials apparently deciding to give Indiana a hand, the inevitable finally occurred with 9:42 to go in the game, as Indiana gained its first lead of 80-79 since the score was in single digits.  Time was called.

Following the timeout, Pierce fired the ball up and missed everything, but Eric Williams made a heroic attempt to save the ball in bounds.  It didn't work, but it was great effort on his part.

Meanwhile, Indiana was doing its best to beat Boston.  Not unexpectedly, their bench outscored Boston's bench 34-11.  That wasn't surprising, considering that due to injuries, a good part of the Celtics’ bench had started the game.

With less than nine minutes to go, Indiana now held an 82-79 lead, and now the outcome of the game was in doubt to anyone who predicted less than 60 wins for Boston this year.  I had absolutely no desire to see this game come down to whether or not Reggie Miller would hit his free throws; Or more nerve-wracking yet, to see whether Antoine Walker would make HIS.

Walter McCarty eased the tensions by hitting a basket by going into the hoop.  It was nice to see some Celtics remembering that was a good option.  But the Celtics defense was not stopping the Pacers at the stage of the game.  Indiana was hitting some good shots, while Boston was settling for “running down the shot clock” jump shots.

J. R. Bremer actually went to the line after a file was – surprisingly - called.  I guess the officials took pity on Bremer.  The substitution patterns for Boston had been unusual all night long.  I wasn't quite sure what to make of them, but by and large, they worked.  At long last, the officials called the foul Celtics way in an obvious matter, as Pierce went to take a charge, and got knocked clear across the lane for his trouble.

You know, I expect at least one of three things to happen this season:

Tommy Heinsohn gets suspended a game by Fox for his abrasive comments about the refs.

Tommy gets thrown out of a game by the officials; becoming, to my knowledge the first broadcaster since Johnny Most to be threatened with removal during a broadcast.  (Ok, Johnny was about to get busted for smoking in a no smoking area, but hey, I’ve never heard of someone sending the cops to the broadcast booth before…or since.)

Tommy gets arrested for verbally assaulting a ref, and bringing the wrath of the FCC on Fox by unfavorably comparing Kenny Maurer and Scott Wall’s officiating knowledge with the six-month-old contents of an outhouse. (or something equally creative).

Don’t get me wrong…I AGREE with him.  But I’m trying not to give myself a stroke getting worked up over the way officials play games—I mean, work games.  :>)

The next play was one of those “mystery plays”, where Paul Pierce took the ball from the top of the arc and made his way down the center lane, only to be dragged over and knocked down - barely managing to flip the ball over to Eric Williams as he went.  Since the shot clock was running down, Eric went straight to the hoop and made a basket.  I wasn't aware that “no blood no foul" was going to be taken quite so literally in the NBA these days.

Eric Williams’ basket tied the game at 84 with seven minutes to go.  The crowd was back into it, and the Celtics responded by denying Indiana a basket on the next possession.

Unfortunately, Walker took a three that missed at the other end.  Indiana scored and got the foul shot at the opposite end, giving them a three-point lead once more.  But the Celtics defense was beginning to clamp down at last, and Pierce punctuated it by getting a basket on the other end as goaltending was called.

Following a timeout with 5:47 to go, Indiana had to inbound the ball and it was questionable whether they not they called a timeout before a five second violation took place.  I counted off on the replay, and I think there was a seven second count before he was granted timeout.  But let's face it - I use Beagle Math, which always favors the Good Guys.

The Celtics continued to take junk shots instead of looking for the open man or driving to the hoop.  This is a good way to lose a close game.  Conversely, Indiana had begun doing what the Celtics of started out doing, with some degree of success.  But then Jermaine O'Neal had a 24 second violation as he apparently completely lost track of the shot clock.  The Celtics did not capitalize on that immediately, because they were still taking outside shots they didn't need to.  Then Ron Mercer lost the ball out of bounds, as Indiana clung to a one-point lead with 4:39 to go in the game.

The Celtics began using a lot of the shot clock on their possessions, as Indiana seemed to move much more quickly when they had the ball.  With four minutes to go, the score was 89-86, Indiana leading.

Oddly enough, J.R. Bremer was bringing the ball over half-court.  I wonder if they’re grooming him to be the second man off the bench when Walker needs a rest.  Bremer also prevented a breakaway basket by Reggie Miller by thoughtfully grabbing him - and even more thoughtfully, holding onto him so he couldn't go slamming face first into the table.

Reggie Miller went to the free throw line - and since the universe had not fallen out of alignment, he made both.  This made the score 91-86 with 3:42 to go in the game.

Boston's shooting percentage in fourth-quarter was not good to this stage of the game, as they were 3-13, while Indiana was 7-14.  The Celtics seemed to forget what had gotten them this far.  They were not looking for the open man, they were not taking the good open shots; they were just looking for the jump shots and the three-pointers.  But they finally changed their ways, and found J.R. Bremer open for a three that went in.  Indiana called timeout with 2:48 to go, and the Pacers leading 91-89.

Following the timeout mention was made that Indiana was 9-2 in games decided by four points or less: the Celtics were 1-3 in the same situation.  That's not the kind of statistic that inspires confidence.

By the way, is anyone else as annoyed as I am for having ordered - and paid for - the NBA League Pass, then having to watch that stupid advertisement scroll across the bottom of the screen offering us a chance to buy it?  Maybe it’s a local promotion, but it’s annoying anyway.

The Celtics worked their defense harder after the timeout, and Eric Williams pulled down a defensive rebound.  The Celtics finally began playing smart again, as Pierce went to the hoop.  He missed, but Walker was right behind him and cleaned up the rebound basket.  The score was now tied at 91 with just over two minutes to go.

Williams got another rebound off the Indiana miss, and the Celtics brought the pumpkin up, looking once more for the open shot.  Pierce managed to find exactly that, giving the Celtics a two-point lead with 1:32 left in the game.  Jermaine O'Neill then lost the ball out of bounds for Indiana, and Boston regained possession.  The Celtics still weren’t running, but at least they were taking smarter shots.  They gave the ball the Pierce, who calmly sank an open jumper.  Well, perhaps not so calmly.  They seemed to be enjoying it immensely.

Now Indiana had the ball, the Celtics had the lead at 95-91, and there was 1:10 to go in the game.  Boston had outscored the Pacers 9-0 over the last 1:50.  That changed as O'Neal got two rebounds and one basket for his trouble on the next possession.  The Celtics then took possession of the ball and Pierce tossed the ball off to Walker - who amazingly, got fouled!

That is, the foul was actually called this time.  Good news - considering Walker’s lack of success of the free throw line - was that it was a possession foul, not a shooting foul.   Coach O’Brien called timeout with 40.8 seconds to go in the game, and Boston leading 95-93.  After the timeout, J.R. Bremer took what had been an open three-point shot, but got knocked to the ground in the process of taking the shot.  Nothing was called, of course.

Indiana called a timeout with 33 seconds to go in the game and the Celtics maintaining their 95-93 lead.  It was now imperative that the Celtics play hard defense - without fouling (or fouling up) - and then produce some offense at the other end.  Reggie Miller took a deep three-point shot that missed, and J.R. Bremer tore down the rebound - and got fouled.  Bremer went to line, going 1-2.  There were now 16 seconds to go in the game and Boston held a 96-93 lead.

Reggie Miller then lost the ball out of bounds on the next possession.  The officials then delayed the game by not giving the ball to the Celtics promptly, allowing Indiana to get back and try to cover the inbound pass with 10.9 seconds to go in the game.  The Pacers kicked the ball out of bounds, and Jim O'Brien called for another timeout to diagram a play.  Following the timeout, the ball in bounded straight to Pierce, who was loitering under the hoop like he was Tony Battie.  He made the easy shot, and pushed the Celtics lead to five points with seven seconds to go.

Indiana couldn’t make a shot, and the Celtics tried to dribble out the clock.  Walker was fouled with 1.7 seconds to go in the game and went to the line.  Fortunately, the fact that he missed both was unimportant to the outcome of the game.  But I do strongly expect him to practice his free throws the rest of the week.  He went 0-6 tonight.  The clock ran out following the missed free throws, and the Celtics won the game 98-93.

This was exactly the sort of game I’ve been waiting for the Celtics to play, and the sort of game I have felt they were capable of playing all season.  They made a good solid effort - with the exception of a rather slow offense in the fourth-quarter - and both Walker and Pierce had their offensive game running on most of their cylinders tonight.

This game played much the way Coach O’Brien would've diagramed it.  Walker and Pierce scored the bulk of the points, with additional scoring for the rest of the players on the court at various times.  The team as a whole played decent defense, and I stress again that normally Indiana shoots much better than they did tonight.  Holding them in the low 40% range is like holding most teams under 30%.  All of all, it was impressive effort from the Boston Celtics.

Boston out shot Indiana, both overall and from the arc.  The Pacers out rebounded Boston overall; but the Good Guys made more offensive rebounds. Boston also had more assists and blocks.  Free throws were bad, as Boston only took 17 and made 8.  The pacers were 31-36.
 

HEROES AND ZEROS

Heroes:

Antoine Walker: 31 points on 13-18 shooting, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and a block.

Paul Pierce: 31 points on 12-29 shooting, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks.  He also went 6-7 at the free throw line.

J.R Bremer: 12 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists.  He’s looking better every game.  If only Baker would improve this fast.

Eric Williams: 7 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists.

Waltah! McCarty:  His offense was so-so, but he hustled on both ends of the court and should be appreciated for it.

Bruno Sundov:  Hey, he made a DUNK!  That sort of thing should be encouraged.

Zeros:

Vin Baker: Yes, he played better, and didn’t get into serious foul trouble, but he still needs to make his presence known by rebounding, not fouling.

Celtics free throws: (except Paul Pierce) Bleah. For crying out loud, guys, as rarely as you get to the line these should be like gold!!

Officials:  I hope they have direct deposit, since they should be too embarrassed to cash their paychecks for this game.
 

The Good Guys, even as this is posted, have probably already arrived in Wisconsin for their game with the Milwaukee Bucks. Let’s hope they keep up the good work they had tonight and improve on it by RUNNING.

And that’s the view from the doghouse.
Indiana 23 28 21 21 93
Boston 29 28 22 19 98