INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jason Tatum scored 22 points and Gordon Hayward added 21 in his return to Indianapolis on Friday night, leading the Boston Celtics to a crucial 117-97 victory over the Pacers.
The Celtics broke a tie with Indiana for the No. 4 seed in the East and essentially took a two-game lead in the chase for home-court advantage because they won the season series 3-1 — giving them the tiebreaker, too. Boston also is building postseason momentum with three straight wins and five in their last six games.
Indiana’s two-game winning streak ended. Myles Turner led the Pacers with 15 points and seven rebounds, while Domantas Sabonis and Tyreke Evans each scored 12.
But the Celtics exposed some problems that could become major concerns for the Pacers when the teams likely meet in a first-round, best-of-seven series, starting next weekend.
They repeatedly broke down Indiana’s defense — and it showed right from the start.
They jumped to a 10-3 lead out of the gate and opened the second quarter with seven straight points to turn a 27-24 deficit into a 31-27 lead.
It was only the start. An 8-0 run made it 52-40 and when the Celtics scored the final four points of the half, they led 58-47.
Indiana didn’t counterpunch much in the second half, either. Wesley Matthews opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to eight. When Tyreke Evans made one of two free throws with 4:50 left, the Pacers were within 74-65.
Boston answered with a 12-3 run to make it 86-68 and the Pacers recovered.
Celtics: Hayward went 9 of 9 from the field and 3 of 3 at the free-throw line. He also had four rebounds in his homecoming. ... Kyrie Irving had 17 points and six assists, while Al Horford, Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris each scored 11 points. ... Baynes also had 11 rebounds. Tatum and Horford each had seven rebounds. ... The Celtics won despite playing without Jaylen Brown (back spasms). ... The Celtics shot 52.2% from the field.
Pacers: Wesley Matthews scored 10 points after missing the previous two games with a strained right hamstring. ... Doug McDermott and Aaron Holiday each scored 11 points and Thaddeus Young had 10. ... Indiana was 10 of 23 on 3s and shot 41.3% from the field. ... The Pacers suffered their worst road loss of the season at Boston and their third-worst home loss this season to the Celtics. ... Point guard Darren Collison missed his third straight game with an injured groin.
Celtics: Head home to play Orlando on Sunday.
Pacers: Host Brooklyn on Sunday, chasing a second straight season sweep.