fb-pixelSome thoughts on the Celtics and their In-Season Tournament loss Skip to main content

What happened on a critical play in the Celtics’ loss, and other thoughts on the In-Season Tournament

A late 4-point play by Tyrese Haliburton Monday night helped the Pacers eliminate the Celtics from the NBA's In-Season Tournament.Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Jaylen Brown’s comments about the Celtics’ miscommunication on Tyrese Haliburton’s critical 4-point play late in the Pacers’ 122-112 win Monday night could be viewed as unnecessarily shifting blame onto a teammate. But his explanation of what went wrong didn’t seem out of bounds. He was simply transparent when asked to describe the situation.

When Buddy Hield jogged over and feigned setting a screen on Al Horford, who was guarding Haliburton near the top of the key, Brown had the best view of what was transpiring and said he tried to alert Horford by yelling the prompt, “square.” That essentially meant that no screen was coming, and that Brown intended to follow Hield through the slip, leaving Horford on Haliburton. But Horford switched onto Hield, creating just enough space for Haliburton to drain the 3-pointer.


“Definitely not supposed to switch that unless you set the screen,” Brown said, “but there was no screen.”

More than anything, Haliburton deserves credit for drilling such a deep, off-balance, and slightly contested shot to win the In-Season Tournament quarterfinal.

▪ It’s too early to be alarmed by Jayson Tatum’s free throw shooting, but it’s late enough that it’s worth noting. He dipped to a career-low 79.2 percent after going just 4 for 7 Monday. The game was tied with about 90 seconds left, so those misses mattered. Tatum has never finished a season below 80 percent, and he shot above 85 percent in each of the last three campaigns.

Also, after attempting 8.4 free throws per game last season, that figure has dipped to 6.5. He is taking .334 free throws per field goal attempt, down from .399 a year ago.

▪ The Celtics have been at the center of conversations about sportsmanship recently. First, Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic and guard Dennis Schroder took issue with Boston using a challenge in the final minutes of its 23-point win. Then in the final group-play game of the In-Season Tournament, Bulls coach Billy Donovan was irked when the Celtics twice intentionally fouled center Andre Drummond in their 124-97 romp.


Coach Joe Mazzulla was unapologetic afterward, saying that he was simply playing by the NBA’s rules that made point differential a key tiebreaker to advance to the knockout round. Several Celtics were less comfortable with the notion of running up the score on their peers.

In the knockout rounds, of course, point differential is no longer relevant. But in the final seconds of Monday’s quarterfinal, Hield teed up a 3-pointer to give Indiana a 10-point win. Maybe he forgot that points don’t matter anymore, maybe unwritten rules have been blurred over the last few weeks, or maybe Hield just felt like taking a shot. Regardless, the Celtics, at least publicly, were unbothered.

“I mean, [expletive], the game was over at that point,” Tatum said. “I didn’t really care.”

Added Mazzulla: “I don’t care. I could care less.”

▪ Speaking of the point differential tiebreaker, some players have suggested that the rule should be tweaked for next season’s tournament. While there could be some kind of adjustment, that unusual tiebreaker was what brought attention and even excitement to the final night of group-stage play, which is all the NBA really wanted. The Celtics’ demolition of the Bulls, for example, could have been irrelevant without that tiebreaker. It seems unlikely that the NBA will get rid of the system just to soothe some bruised egos.


▪ If you’re sick of the Pacers, tough luck. These teams will meet three more times next month, including two games in three nights back in Indiana. The In-Season Tournament was bound to lead to schedule imbalances, but five games against a non-divisional opponent is a lot. This season, the Celtics will play just three apiece against the Bulls, Cavaliers, Hornets, Pistons, Heat, and Magic.

▪ Monday’s loss is certainly not all bad for the Celtics. They now have a home game Friday against the loser of the Knicks/Bucks quarterfinal, and their five-game homestand will stretch across 13 days. That’s plenty of rest and recovery time before things start revving up again.

▪ Aaron Nesmith is mostly quiet and mild-mannered, but he has a fiery side, and the way his two-year Celtics tenure unfolded bothered him at least a bit. So Nesmith appeared to relish the opportunity to eliminate his former team while advancing within two wins of a $500,000 payday.

Nesmith erupted for 11 points in the fourth quarter on Monday, including a violent one-handed dunk that all but sealed the game in the final minute. He also played some pesky defense on Tatum despite an obvious size differential.

“Aaron, definitely a product of his environment,” Brown said. “He’s a workaholic. He plays extremely hard, sacrifices his body. He was for sure a big reason why they got the win tonight. So shout-out to little bro.”


▪ MVP chants are quite common, often pouring down on players who are nowhere near being candidates.

Haliburton’s praise Monday was worthy, but also had an unusual flavor. These calls usually arrive when a player is at the free throw line, because the brief interlude creates a logical opening. And Haliburton was serenaded when he stood at the line during his 4-point play with 1:33 left. But the crowd took it a step further by continuing the chants as he simply inbounded the ball from the baseline. Celtics guard Derrick White said it was the most lively Indiana crowd he had seen during his seven-year career.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.