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Celtics complete rare sweep by beating Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS — Gordon Hayward scored 20 points and Marcus Morris started a decisive 3-point flurry late in the fourth quarter Sunday to give the Boston Celtics a series-clinching 110-106 victory at Indiana.

It’s the first four-game sweep for the Celtics since 2011 and their second since 1986-87, becoming the first team to reach the second round of the playoffs.

Bojan Bogdanovic finished with 22 points and Tyreke Evans finished with a playoff career-high of 21 to lead the Pacers. It still wasn’t enough to prevent Indiana from enduring its second first-round sweep in three years – the only two best-of-seven sweeps in franchise history.

This game, unlike the previous three, did not turn on Boston’s suffocating second-half defense. Instead, it was a flagrant foul called on Indiana’s Cory Joseph with 6:45 to play.

Jayson Tatum took advantage by making both free throws to give the Celtics an 83-82 lead. Al Horford sank 1 of 2 on Boston’s next possession and then Morris started the decisive flurry with a 3-pointer with 5:08 to play. Hayward’s three-point play with 4:24 left made it 90-83 and Boston made three more 3s over the next three minutes to take an insurmountable 102-90 lead.

Twice in the first half, it looked like Boston might run away with the victory.

But the Pacers charged back to take a 49-47 halftime lead and extended it to 56-49 in the third quarter.

That’s when Boston rallied, closing a methodical comeback with the final four points of the third to take a 73-72 lead and then put it away behind the shooting of Hayward and Morris, who had 18 points and eight rebounds.

Kyrie Irving had 14 points and seven assists for Boston.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Closed out the series with their seventh straight win against Indiana this season. … Tatum also had 18 points and rebounds while Al Horford finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. … Jaylen Brown added 13 points and Terry Rozier had 11 off the bench. … Boston was 10 of 28 on 3s, 5 of 7 in the fourth.

Pacers: Darren Collison had 16 points, six rebounds and five assists while Thaddeus Young added nine points and nine rebounds. … Domantas Sabonis scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds while Myles Turner had 13 points and seven rebounds…. The Pacers shot 40.9 percent in the game. … Victor Oladipo made his first public appearance at Bankers Life Fieldhouse since suffering a season-ending right knee injury in January.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Will wait to find out who they play in the second round.

Pacers: Head into the offseason contemplating how they can improve next season.

Kyrie Irving torches Pacers for 37 points in Celtics win

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In what had been a tight game, the Pacers built a four-point lead over the Celtics with four minutes left in the third quarter. From there:

Irving scored 37 points and dished seven assists, leading Boston to a 99-91 Game 2 win Wednesday. The Celtics now lead the first-round series 2-0. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 93% of the time.

The Pacers just can’t muster enough offense – not against this sound Boston defense. Indiana went nearly nine scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter. Even after ending that drought, the Pacers’ final five possessions: miss, miss, miss, turnover, turnover.

This is why the Celtics got Irving. His ability to create shots sets them apart in these slogging playoff games.

Jayson Tatum added 26 points. But Al Horford struggled while playing through illness. Marcus Morris shot 0-for-8. Jaylen Brown didn’t really get going.

This wasn’t the prettiest game for Boston, but because of Irving, it was a win.

Pacers searching for offense in Game 2 vs. Celtics

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Two teams looking to put together two strong halves meet again Wednesday night when the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers visit the fourth-seeded Boston Celtics for Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.

Despite their lowest scoring game of the season, the Celtics prevailed 84-74 in the best-of-7 opener by dominating the second half, limiting the Pacers to 29 points after the visitors had taken a 45-38 halftime lead.

Kyrie Irving had 20 points and helped limit Pacers point guard Darren Collison to six points on 3-for-11 shooting to lead the Celtics’ win.

Afterward, he wasn’t necessarily proud of the achievement, insisting what comes next in a series is always more important than what’s just happened.

“At this point, it’s just moving on to the next thing,” he said at his postgame press conference. “When you have that kind of mentality, you don’t need to be fixated on mistakes.”

Mistakes were aplenty in Game 1, especially when it came to shooting.

The Celtics shot just 32 percent in the first half, before improving to 41 percent in the second half.

On this night, that was good enough, being that the Pacers followed up a 44-percent first half by missing their first 11 shots of the third quarter.

Just like that, a seven-point halftime lead had turned into a 60-48 deficit.

Outscored 26-8 in the decisive third quarter, Indiana wound up making just eight field goals in the entire second half, going 8-for-38 (21.1 percent).

In the end, guard Wesley Matthews found a positive.

“We’ve got to shake this off and realize there was a lot of good in there,” he said at his postgame press conference. “I don’t think if we played with our eyes closed we could have an eight-point quarter again.”

The 74-point total was 15 points lower than any previous game this season for the Pacers. But it was the third time in their last four games that they were held under 100, a stretch that included a key 117-97 home loss to the Celtics in the final week of the regular season.

The Celtics’ defensive brilliance came despite the absence of Marcus Smart, who is expected to miss the entire series with a torn oblique.

Boston moved Jaylen Brown into his starting spot, yet still managed to play the Pacers almost evenly off the bench, getting outscored just 36-35.

Marcus Morris (20) and Gordon Hayward (10) combined for 30 of the Celtics’ 35 bench points. Boston could be without Al Horford (illness) in Game 2. He was officially listed as questionable Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the Indiana bench contributed to the team’s poor offensive effort, with the usually reliable Domantas Sabonis (3-for-9), Tyreke Evans (3-for-11) and Doug McDermott (1-for-7) combining to shoot just 7-for-27.

The Celtics are quite familiar with winning the opening game of a playoff series. In fact, they went up 2-0 against all three of their postseason opponents last season, going on to beat Milwaukee 4-3 and

Philadelphia 4-1 before falling to Cleveland 4-3 in the Eastern finals.

The Pacers, meanwhile, have rallied to win the series on two of the last three occasions when they lost Game 1. Interestingly, they’ve gone 0-3 in series over that same span after winning the opener.

 

Celtics rally past Pacers in low scoring Game 1 victory

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BOSTON (AP) Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris each had 20 points, and the Boston Celtics rallied in the second half to beat the Indiana Pacers 84-74 on Sunday to take a 1-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Jayson Tatum finished with 15 points. Al Horford added 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Gordon Hayward had 10 points. It was the first playoff game since 2017 for Irving and Hayward after each missed last year’s postseason with injuries.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Boston.

The Pacers led by 11 points in the first half but had just eight points in the third quarter. The Celtics capitalized and led by as many as 22 in the fourth. Indiana scored 29 points in the second half, and the quarter and half were both its worst of the season.

Cory Joseph had 14 points for the Pacers. Bojan Boganovic was the lone Pacers starter in double figures with 12 points.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens and Pacers coach Nate McMillan both said before the series that the more physical team would have the edge.

After a shaky start, it turned out to be Boston.

Indiana led by as many as 11 in the first half before Boston opened the third quarter with a 22-3 run to take a 60-48 lead. The Pacers didn’t get their first field goal of the second half until Cory Joseph dropped in a layup with 3:38 left in the third. They finished the quarter 2 for 19 from the field.

Boston’s run included a brief appearance by Celtics legend and former Pacers front office executive Larry Bird, who was shown on the big screen during a timeout.

The third period ended with Terry Rozier connecting on an acrobatic 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds remaining to put the Celtics ahead 64-53. The lead grew to 84-62 on a 3-pointer by Tatum with 3:34 remaining.

Stevens went with Jaylen Brown in the starting lineup in place of Marcus Smart, who is out with a torn left oblique.

But after Boston committed four turnovers in the first four minutes of the game, Stevens quickly adjusted, inserting Morris and Hayward.

The change paid off with Morris connecting on 3 of 4 field-goal attempts in the period, including two 3-pointers, and scoring 12 points. No other Celtics player had more than two points.

The Celtics continued turning the ball over, though. They finished the first half with 10 turnovers, which led to 11 Pacers points.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Went 12 of 21 from the free throw line (57%).

Celtics: Outrebounded the Pacers 55-42.

PATRIOTS’ KRAFT COURTSIDE

Patriots team owner Robert Kraft sat courtside beside Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck. Kraft was charged with two counts of solicitation in January after police said he twice paid to have sex with employees at a Florida spa.

UP NEXT

Boston hosts Game 2 on Wednesday.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Five teams that can knock off Golden State Warriors

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There’s going to be a parade this June in Oakland. It’s all but set, city officials quietly have started the planning already. The Golden State Warriors are going to win the NBA title and there is nothing anyone can do about it…

Or can they?

The Warriors are the favorites to with the NBA title. Again. As they should be. However, there are teams that can challenge the Warriors, this is not going to be a cake walk. And unlike the past couple of years, the Warriors biggest challenge will be in the Finals.

Here are the five teams that have a shot at beating the Warriors this season.

Raptors small icon1) The Toronto Raptors.

Don’t get stuck in the “the Raptors are not a playoff team” past, this is by design a very different Toronto roster heading into the playoffs. And it’s a team that matches up well with what Golden State — they are long and switchable on defense, they know how to get buckets, and they now have a clear closer.

Nobody is going to stop Kevin Durant, but Kawhi Leonard can slow him, make KD work, and be left on an island against him (relatively) allowing other defenders to stay home with their guys. While I don’t put much stock in regular season games as postseason predictors, way back in November Leonard and Durant had a back-and-forth showdown that was one of the more entertaining games of the year.

Danny Green is a strong defender who can be put on the hotter of Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry, then Kyle Lowry can do a solid job on the other. Pascal Siakam can get Draymond Green and help off him while daring Green to shoot jumpers, and Siakam can be the five when the Warriors go small with Green at center. Marc Gasol will likely start on DeMarcus Cousins, but Serge Ibaka can get time, too. Then the Rockets bring Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet as needed.

Toronto’s fifth-ranked offense this season is still going to score points against the Warriors. They can score inside and out. And when the game is on the line Leonard will get the chance to show why he was once Finals MVP.

The Warriors would and should still be favorites in this potential Finals matchup, but the Raptors are poised to make it work.

Bucks small icon2) The Milwaukee Bucks.

A team needs long, switchable defenders and an elite offense to beat the Warriors. The Bucks had the fourth best offense in the NBA this past season, led by MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo. So check that box. As for long, switchable defenders, the Bucks are built around the Greek Freak, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and the physical at the point Eric Bledsoe. Check.

The Bucks are one of the few teams that can take and make threes at the pace of the Warriors and they may be willing to play that way. If Warriors defenders have to slide out to arc to stop shooters — especially Cousins chasing Brook Lopez out of the paint — it opens up the lane for Antetokounmpo’s drives, and nobody is stopping those.

What the Bucks need is Brogdon back and healthy to put on Klay Thompson. Also, Milwaukee would need to find a way to keep playing their base defense, which has Lopez dropping off picks to clog the paint, without giving up too many threes to the Warriors. Finally, when the Warriors go small the Bucks can go with Antetokounmpo at center lineups.

It would be a big step for the Bucks to challenge the Warriors, but on paper they have the tools.

Rockets small icon3) The Houston Rockets.

This is the same team that was ahead at halftime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals on their home court less than a year ago….

Well, they’re not the same team exactly. But they are playing closer to that level than they have all season — Chris Paul looks more like his old self, Clint Capela looks in shape, Danuel House Jr. and PJ Tucker have found a groove as role players, and since the All-Star break the Rockets have the second-best defense in the land and the best net rating (+10.7).

The Rockets still have James Harden and nobody — on the Warriors or on the planet — can stop him. If he has other guys knocking down some shots around him and the Rockets keep defending, they are the only team in the West with a chance. The Rockets do not have Trevor Ariza or the same depth that made them a genuine threat to the Warriors, a Rockets team that might have a ring if CP3 had stayed healthy. But the Rockets are still the second best team in the West and the only team with a shot at the Warriors.

If the Rockets and Warriors meet it will be in the second round — and that could be good for Houston. What has slowed the Rockets in recent seasons was Harden just running out of gas from the load he has to carry, or Paul getting injured. Does meeting in the second round make it less likely either of those things happen, meaning the Rockets have a better chance? Maybe. The Rockets will have to fight their way past a very good Jazz team to find out.

Celtics small icon 4) The Boston Celtics.

The preseason favorites in the East have shown flashes this year where you can’t help but think “that’s a contender, they can push the Warriors.” Boston just hasn’t been able to sustain it.

The matchup on paper is interesting. Kyrie Irving has battled Stephen Curry to a standstill in the Finals before. Al Horford can be effective against Golden State whether Cousins is in the paint (Horford is a better post defender than people think, and on offense he could pull Cousins out to the three-point line to defend his shot) or if the Warriors go small and Green is at the five. Horford blows up the mismatches Golden State banks on.

The Celtics would need Marcus Smart back and healthy. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier all need to play as well as they did last playoffs. A lot of things need to go right and the Celtics have not been able to sustain that this year.

But Boston has the pieces to be a potential threat to Golden State.

Sixers small icon 5) The Philadelphia 76ers.

Philly being on this list comes down to one thing: They have the second best starting five in the league. The one starting five that can challenge the Warriors best lineups.

Joel Embiid (who can outplay Cousins, but didn’t play well against the Warriors this season), Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and sharpshooting J.J. Redick have a ton of potential. When on the court together, the unit has been dominant on both ends.

The problem is they haven’t been on the court together that much and there are chemistry questions. Plus, behind this five there is little depth.

Philadelphia has a long way to go to really be a threat to the Warriors, but if they make it out of the East they may be that team by June.