INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—After watching the Boston Celtics wrestle inside and questioning their ability to fight, Doc Rivers changed tactics.
He used a small lineup Saturday to get the Indiana Pacers out of sync. Brilliant move.
Paul Pierce finished with 30 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and five blocked shots, and Ricky Davis broke out of a shooting slump with 15 points to lead the Celtics to a 110-79 rout of the Pacers in Game 4, tying the first-round series.
“When we play good defense, we’re a good basketball team, no doubt about it,” Rivers said. “We pressured the ball and denied catches all game.”
It was just what the Celtics needed with the odds stacked against them.
Playing on the road without suspended Antoine Walker, facing the possibility of going two games down in the best-of-seven series and with Indiana fans waving their white towels in unison, the Celtics refused to surrender.
Instead, they return to Boston for Game 5 having played one of their best games of the season.
Boston shot 56.8 percent from the field, 53.8 percent from 3-point range, limited the dangerous shooting Pacers to an NBA playoff record low of 26.9 percent from the field and handed Indiana its worst playoff loss since it joined the NBA in 1976-77.
Indiana’s worst previous defeat was 24 points to Orlando on June 4, 1995 in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals.
Boston, in contrast, had all five starters score at least 11 points, led by Pierce, who shot 10-for-15 from the field and scored 23 points in the first half.
But it was the Celtics quick defenders that dominated the game.
“Their sheer athleticism really got us,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “They played this well without Walker. If they had played with Walker, it may have been worse, who knows.”
The Celtics spent Game 3 trying to rough up Pacers All-Star Jermaine O’Neal, which set off tempers. This time, Rivers started three guards and Pierce, a 6-foot-6 forward, to turn up the pressure on Indiana.
Carlisle expected it, but the Celtics made the strategy work.
“We said ‘Lets treat this game like an elimination game,’ “ Pierce said. “We did, and now we’ve got the momentum back.”
Indiana’s biggest problem wasn’t only O’Neal’s sore right shoulder. It was foul trouble, poor shot selection and an offense that never dictated the tempo. The result: Indiana shot just 31 percent in the first half and was even worse in the second half. It was even worse than the 27.5 percent—their previous low—they shot against on May 24, 2004.
Only four Pacers scored in the first quarter and only two—O’Neal and Jackson—hit more than one basket. Each had two.
That was the opening Boston needed to climb back into the series.
“Doc made some great lineup adjustments,” Carlisle said. “They wanted to bring speed to the game, and they really blew by us right from the beginning almost until the very end.”
Leading 17-13 midway through the first quarter, the Celtics prevented Indiana from making another basket the rest of the quarter. They took advantage by jumping to a 31-20 lead and never trailed again.
Every time it looked as though Indiana might rally, Boston had an answer.
Miller’s second 3-pointer, early in the second quarter, made it 35-32.
Then Pierce took over. He scored 15 points in the second quarter, thwarting the Pacers run single-handedly. Boston led by as much as 52-38 before a last-minute scoring flurry and Miller’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer got Indiana within 56-47 at halftime.
In the second half, the Pacers made one charge with some help from an unlikely source—Jones. The backup forward hit a 3-pointer, then took a charge, hit another 3 and made one of two free throws to get the Pacers within 58-56 with 7:49 left.
This time, the Celtics re-established control with a 9-0 run and extended the lead to 78-60 with 1:16 left in the third quarter.
The Pacers never challenged again, benching their starters for the final 6 minutes.
“We were just hoping to fight them off by going small and waiting for them to come back,” Davis said. “We wanted to just jump on them.”
Indiana lost for just the sixth time in its last 22 home games. … Boston outscored Indiana in the paint 48-22. … The Celtics shot 7-for-13 from 3-point range after going just 6-of-25 in their previous two games combined. … Delonte West started in place of Walker and scored 14 points, most in the fourth quarter, but spent much of the game in foul trouble. … The teams combined to shoot 62 free throws as the officials called 55 fouls.