INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gordon Hayward executed the game plan perfectly for Boston on Friday night.
He made all nine of his shots. He made all three of his free throws. And, he gave the Celtics the clear edge for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, too.
While Jason Tatum scored 22 points, Hayward became the first Celtics player since Kevin McHale in 1986 to make every shot and score at least 20 points as Boston pulled away from the Indiana Pacers 117-97 to break a tie for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
The victory also gave Boston a 3-1 series edge to claim the first tiebreaker, essentially giving the Celtics a two-game lead with two remaining.
“I don’t know how you guys find all these stats. More important, we got the win,” said Hayward, who scored 21 points. “It was a great job by us, a big win.”
Admittedly, Hayward has done some of his best work in his hometown.
He won the 2008 high school state championship on the Pacers’ home court. Two years later, and just a few blocks away, he came within inches of making a half-court heave for Butler to beat Duke for a national title.
But Hayward’s last appearance in Indy didn’t end well. Victor Oladipo stole his inbound pass at the buzzer to seal a 102-101 victory on Nov. 3.
This time, with the Celtics trying to build momentum for the postseason, Boston had a 23-point advantage when Hayward was on the floor. Boston has won three straight and five of six.
“Hayward is playing really well,” coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s attacking with great physicality. That’s what he does. He’s still not forcing anything that’s not there. It’s good that he’s playing this way.”
If the Pacers don’t get their defense righted quickly, it could lead to an early exit – especially if they draw the Celtics in a best-of-seven series starting next weekend.
But the bigger problem was matching up with Hayward & Co. Despite allowing a league-low 104.1 points, Boston repeatedly shredded the Pacers defense.
“We kind of let them do what they wanted to do when we were on the defensive side of the basketball and just kind of let them run their offense and get into a flow,” Pacers forward Thaddeus Young said after scoring 10 points. “One of the guys that killed us was Gordon Hayward. He was 9 for 9 tonight.”
And it was that way right from the start.
After breaking to a 10-3 lead, Hayward helped fuel a 7-0 run to start the second quarter that gave Boston a 31-27 lead. They never trailed again.
Boston scored the final four points of the first half to take a 58-47 lead and only allowed the Pacers to get as close as eight – on a 3-pointer from Wesley Matthews to open the second half. The Celtics sealed the win with a 12-3 third-quarter run that made it 86-68.