Earlier this week, following back-to-back blowout losses, Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas lamented the fact that the C’s had lost their “swag.” He put it on himself to find away to help the team regain its identity.
Thomas overcame an off shooting night by hitting some big baskets in the fourth quarter as the Celtics put together a strong performance for a second straight night, leading to a 105-99 victory over the Pacers in Indiana, Boston’s first road win of the season.
Thomas shot just 4-for-13, but he hit 14-of-15 free throws to finish with 23 points. He joins Sam Jones (1965-66) and Kevin McHale (1986-87) as the only Celtics to score 20 or more points in each of the team’s first nine games of the season.
It was 99-94 with just over a minute left after Thomas hit two free throws. At the other end, Bradley snuck up on center Myles Turner at the 3-point line and stole the ball, then passed it to Smart in the middle of the court as he was falling out of bounds. Smart caught it in the air and, without coming down, fired it ahead to Thomas for a reverse layup under pressure that put the C’s ahead by seven with exactly a minute to play. Indiana never threatened thereafter.
For the second straight game, Brad Stevens elected to start Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart as Boston looked to avoid the disastrous starts that previously were a problem in embarrassing losses to the Nuggets and Wizards. The C’s did give up a lot of points in the opening eight minutes to the Pacers and trailed by seven after one period, but they led by three at halftime (48-45) and maintained that margin after three quarters.
Olynyk finished with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. Amir Johnson contributed 14 points and nine rebounds, and Bradley amassed 13 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals.
The suddenly relevant James Young provided a spark off the bench with 12 points, hitting 5-of-6 shots (2-of-3 treys) in 16 minutes. Fellow sub Terry Rozier also played well, recording 11 points and six rebounds. Both played well on the defensive end as well.
“I thought the bench really got us going defensively after the — I think it was 27 points in the first eight minutes — after that we guarded at a pretty good level,” Stevens told reporters in his postgame press conference. “And I thought the bench all came in and did a pretty good job. James’ activity and Terry’s activity were obviously noticeable.”
Jeff Teague led Indiana with 20 points. He missed 11 of the 15 shots he took, but he did his damage from the line, making 11-of-12. Turner had 17 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three blocks.
The Celtics were still without Al Horford (who traveled with the team and might play Monday against the Pelicans) and Jae Crowder. The Pacers were missing Paul George (sprained ankle).
Stud of the night: James Young
Young looks like a different player from the one we’ve seen his first two seasons. He brought the energy — hustling on defense, diving on the floor for a loose ball, racing over to bat a rebound to teammate Avery Bradley for a 3-pointer, and making a pass to Isaiah Thomas and then flashing open and getting the ball back for an easy basket.
“Just a lot of hard work is paying off,” he told CSNNE’s Abby Chin before leaving the court. “I’m going to keep grinding every day like I have been. I’m not taking any days off. We’ll just see how it goes.”
Stevens said Young’s hard work is paying off with better shooting.
“He’s shot it at such a different level than he shot it two years ago when he got here as far as accuracy in workouts and practice and everything else,” Stevens said. “He’s certainly always a capable shooter with a beautiful stroke, but he’s really, really worked hard on becoming accurate. He either shoots it or moves it, and I thought with that group that was a good thing.”
As for Young’s defensive contributions, Stevens said: “I thought he was just active. We need him to be active, long and physical.”
Dud of the night:
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