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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.

Loaded with expiring contracts, Pacers still scraping and clawing together

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Thaddeus Young faced a tough decision last summer.

Coming off the best season of his career, he held a $13,764,045 player option with the Pacers. Opting in probably, though not definitely, maximized his salary this year. But opting out would have allowed him to sign a long-term deal with more total compensation.

Young opted in.

“Obviously, I had a few teams that wanted to pay me some money and stuff like that,” Young said. “But I figured that playing another season and going into it with these guys is better for me.

“We’re a family. We built something. We have some unfinished business.”

That decision, several others and Victor Oladipo‘s season-ending knee injury sent Indiana toward its identity – a tough, balanced team full of players incentivized to look out for themselves.

Several key Pacers – Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Wesley Matthews, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans – are on expiring contracts. But they don’t play like it. Indiana has remained cohesive amid obstacles, including the contract situations.

Don’t expect that to change with the Pacers trailing the Celtics 2-0 in their first round series entering Game 3 tonight.

Indiana proved its mettle last season. Largely written off after the Paul George trade, the Pacers became the NBA’s surprise team by winning 48 games. Victor Oladipo broke out as a star.

This season brought a new complication – players on the verge of getting compensated for their success. It could have happened more gradually, but circumstance created a rush.

Young opted in. Indiana exercised a $10.5 million team option on Bogdanovic and a $10 million team option on Collison, locking this in as the final year of their contracts. Matthews got bought out by the Knicks and signed for the rest of the season with a Pacers team that presented major opportunity with Oladipo sidelined. Evans, finding an underwhelming market in free agency last summer, prioritized a one-year deal. Joseph was the only one who was clearly entering the final season of his contract in Indiana.

The Pacers have given 68% of their minutes this postseason to players on expiring contracts. That’s a close second to the 76ers (only because I counted a few players with sure-to-be-declined player options – Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Khris Middleton – as having expiring contracts).

Here’s the percentage of minutes given to players on expiring contracts this postseason:

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In the regular season, Indiana trailed only the Wizards.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan said he addressed the contract situation before the season. His message, as summarized by Joseph: “We’re better when we play together, and if we do, then everybody will get rewarded.”

Players clearly bought in. Indiana surged to a 32-15 start. But Oladipo’s injury tested the Pacers’ cohesiveness.

They clearly wouldn’t be as good without their star, and they went just 16-19 since his last game. It would have been a logical time for players to go their own ways and start playing for themselves in what looked like it’d be a lost season.

Instead, they tightened their bond. This team has been quite competitive without Oladipo. The schedule got tough in March, but the Pacers stuck together.

“We don’t have big names, big stars on our team,” Bogdanovic said. “But we are fighting every single night.”

The delicate balance of Indiana’s offense – especially considering contract-year motivations – is quite stunning.

The Pacers averaged 5.4 double-digit scorers per game this season – the most in nearly two decades. Not bad for a team that finished 22nd in the NBA in points per game. Though scoring is up this season, 69 other teams averaged more points per game since another team had so many double-digit scorers per game.

“There’s a lot of players on the other teams that play for their own stats,” Bogdanovic said. “…We have this season, eight or nine players with expiring contracts, and we are still playing the right way, sharing the ball. We don’t care who’s going to score. That’s why we are successful.”

Unconcerned about their scoring numbers, Indiana players exert their energy on other things – defending, rebounding, screening. The Pacers impose a hard-nosed style, just as they did last year.

Indiana’s professionalism and focus on winning is a tribute to its players and organizational culture. This is a veteran team with the right priorities.

As much as he believed in this group, as well as he has guided it, McMillan wasn’t quite certain how the contract situations would affect his squad.

“That can go either way,” McMillan said. “It can be good or bad. It’s been good for us. Our guys have committed to playing together.”

Gordon Hayward delivers perfect finish as Celtics rout Pacers

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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.

Myles Turner had 15 points and seven rebounds to lead Indiana. Domantas Sabonis and Tyreke Evans each scored 12 points for the Pacers, whose two-game winning streak ended.

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.

 

Pacers use size to pull off big 111-102 win over Pistons

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Thaddeus Young scored 19 points and Domantas Sabonis added 18 points and 12 rebounds Monday night to help the Indiana Pacers snap a three-game losing streak with a 111-102 victory over the Detroit Pistons.

It was a crucial win for the Pacers, who had lost seven of their previous eight and their grip on potentially having home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Myles Turner chipped in with 17 points and five blocks.

Wayne Ellington scored a season-high 26 points and Andre Drummond had 18 points and 17 rebounds for the Pistons. Detroit started the night in the No. 6 spot with a 1 1/2-game lead over Orlando for the final playoff spot in the East.

But after a sluggish start, the struggling and short-handed Pacers finally got the spark they needed from their two big men, Sabonis and Turner.

Sabonis made his first five shots as Indiana charged back from an early 10-point deficit, and Turner made the big plays in the second half, including a 3-pointer and two free throws late in the third to give the Pacers an 87-80 edge.

The combination was just enough for the Pacers to slip past the Pistons, who were firing on all cylinders early to take a 33-23 lead.

Sabonis spurred a 12-5 second-quarter charge that got the Pacers within 43-41 and Indiana closed out the half on a 7-2 run to take a 59-55 lead.

When the recharged Pistons rallied in the third quarter with runs of 9-0 and 7-0 to retake a 77-74 lead, Sabonis answered with a short hook shot, Bojan Bogdanovic scored on a fast break and Turner scored seven points in the decisive 13-3 run that gave Indiana an 87-80 lead after the third quarter.

Sabonis also started the game-sealing 9-0 run with a 9-footer early in the fourth.

 

Mike Conley, Khris Middleton, Steven Adams among 12 nominees for NBA’s Teammate of the Year

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Chauncey Billups, Shane Battier, Tim Duncan, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Jamal Crawford have won the Twyman–Stokes Teammate of the Year Award.

Who’ll claim it next?

NBA:

Each of these players is a good teammate in his own way.

Steven Adams does all the dirty work to make the Thunder – especially Russell Westbrook – operate smoothly.

Mike Conley has remained steady amid a losing season full of trade rumors.

Jared Dudley is smart, always willing to share his opinion and happy to help younger teammates.

Channing Frye fosters better communication and relationships within the locker room.

Rudy Gay showed great determination recovering from a torn Achilles.

Udonis Haslem oozes veteran wisdom.

Andre Iguodala is highly intelligent, on and off the court, and tries to use his knowledge to help his teammates.

Kyle Korver continued to do his job after what could have been an ugly end with the Cavaliers, and he remains steadfast with the Jazz.

Khris Middleton set a tone for the four Bucks starters who entered this season on expiring contracts to remain focused and unselfish.

J.J. Redick is the 76ers’ veteran voice.

Garrett Temple is a bit of a surprising inclusion considering he got into a fight with Grizzlies teammate Omri Casspi earlier this season. But Temple, who was since traded to the Clippers, is renowned for his professionalism.

Thaddeus Young keeps becoming an even more complete player for his team. With Victor Oladipo sidelined, more of a leadership role has fallen on Young.