INDIANAPOLIS — Like he so often seems to do, Kyrie Irving gave the Boston Celtics a chance.
The Boston Celtics struggled at times to build consistent offense on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers, but down the stretch, Irving once again looked like he was ready to play the hero — ripping a win away from an opponent in cold-blooded fashion.
The Pacers, however, had the answer, despite a four-point lead for the Celtics in the final minute — roaring back with clutch defense and a couple of huge shots from star guard Victor Oladipo to claim a 102-101 victory.
Let’s take a closer look at how the comeback unfolded.
It started with just over a minute remaining and both teams locked in a 95-95 tie. Boston ran a nice baseline out-of-bounds play that actually freed Jaylen Brown cutting to the basket for a layup, although Jayson Tatum didn’t sneak the pass in. Instead, he dished to Kyrie Irving, coming off a flare screen from Al Horford to the corner. Irving buried a triple in Darren Collison’s grill.
The Pacers answered with a long two from Victor Oladip — the kind of shot Brad Stevens will happily live with.
Irving came back down and drilled a cold-blooded pick-and-pop three. Domantas Sabonis helped onto him off a pick-and-roll but left him at the last second after Irving pump-faked to return to Horford. Some players struggle to make jumpers after a pump fake, but Irving remained on balance and square to the hoop.
The Pacers answered with a pair of free throws, and Boston needed a bucket to put the game away. Indiana made a gutsy decision not to foul with only five seconds separating the shot and game clock, trusting its defense to get a stop.
The defense held, despite a nice play call by Boston. Here’s the look.
Irving set a down screen to free Marcus Morris, but he used the action to seal his man under the rim. That created great position for him, but he was a little too far under the basket.
“I smoked the layup,” Irving said. “That’s what it comes down to. Great play call by Coach Stevens and I just smoked that layup.”
That set up the Oladipo game winner, which made Pacers coach Nate McMillan’s decision not to foul look even smarter.
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) November 4, 2018
You can pick some nits here if you want — Irving could have done more to contest the shot, and Horford was a little late getting out. But Oladipo is a star for a reason. He pulled up early knowing the double-team was coming and realizing his opportunity to get a shot in the air was right then. The shot barely moved the net. Sometimes, stars are just stars.
“I wanted to double him and help Kyrie there,” Horford said. “And I was like, ‘If Sabonis scores a two, it’s fine’ So I went over. But he pulled up earlier than I anticipated, shot it, good shot.”
The Celtics still had a chance to win, and Stevens is known for pulling out victories in that situation.
Boston’s play call nearly pulled it off. Stevens said Boston had multiple options.
Horford came up and could have been both the hand-off option for Hayward running from out of bounds or a scorer from mid-range (Boston had more than three seconds to make it happen).
But the real option was the play similar to the play Irving “smoked.” Tatum set a screen to force Oladipo onto his back, and he turned to the basket. Hayward lofted a pass that was supposed to go over Oladipo and into Tatum’s waiting grasp.
But Oladipo read the play perfectly and shot the gap to tip the ball away, preventing Tatum from sealing him off.
“The play was called and Jayson was on the seal,” Hayward said. “We didn’t have any timeouts so I thought he could seal off his man and then maybe catch it and shoot it and that’s all that happened. … I’ve got to make a better read on that.”
The Celtics couldn’t foul to extend the game.
“Coach drew up a great play, and we just didn’t deliver the pass,” Horford said. “That’s definitely disappointing tonight.”
“We have to be better at the end of games — there’s no question about that,” Stevens said. “We did some good things, too. We executed well, Kyrie made some huge shots, the last play will look better on film than it did on the steal, but certainly Oladipo made a great second effort to get there. Defensively we can be a little bit better and not put ourselves in that position.”