INDIANAPOLIS — With Indiana down one in the final seconds Sunday, coach Nate Bjorkgren asked Domantis Sabontis to bail out the Pacers.
The All-Star forward delivered. He put the ball on the floor, drove hard toward the basket, muscled in the go-ahead layup and drew a foul with 8.4 seconds to play.
Sure he missed the free throw, but Indiana’s defence forced an errant 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left and held on for a 108-107 victory over Boston.
“Coach is a genius. He has a different play for everything,” Sabonis said. “He trusts every single one of us and that makes it easier for the players. We all trust him and just try to execute as best we can.”
So far, Sabonis has thrived in Bjorkgren's new system.
He followed Saturday's triple-double, with 19 points, 10 rebounds and five assists — his third double-double in three games and No. 100 in his career.
And Sabonis had plenty of help, too.
Malcolm Brogdon scored a season-high 25 points and T.J. Warren added 17 as the Pacers improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2013-14, sweeping their first back-to-back of the season — barely.
“Yes, it was designed that way,” Bjorkgren said after drawing up the play for Sabonis during Indiana's final timeout. “But I thought the other four guys really moved and shifted the defence , too, and that helped open it up for Domas.”
The Celtics spent most of the second half playing catch up before finally taking a 107-106 lead when Robert Williams III stole an inbound pass and found Marcus Smart for a breakaway layup with 11.8 seconds to go.
After a missed free throw Sabonis, Boston called timeout to set up a play and Jayson Tatum's long 3 was off the mark. Tatum finished with 25 points and Jaylen Brown had 18 as the Celtics lost their second straight.
“We definitely beat ourselves tonight and there was still an opportunity to win the game," Brown said. “We gave it up at the end. We’ve got to come back and be better, be more physical and more solid on defence .”
Celtics: Tatum also had 11 rebounds and five assists. ... Payton Pritchard added 13 points off the bench. ... Smart finished with 11 points and six assists. .... Robert Williams III had 12 points. ... Boston had 18 turnovers and got outrebounded 37-34.
Pacers: Brogdon had five rebounds and five assists. ... T.J. Warren had 17 points and Doug McDermott added 16 off the bench. ... McDermott has had three straight double-figure games and went 3 of 7 on 3s. ... Myles Turner had 10 points, seven rebounds and five blocks and now has 17 blocks in three games. ... Indiana had 23 assists on 45 baskets. ... It's only the seventh time in the Pacers NBA history they've started 3-0.
The Pacers deactivated two-time All-Star guard Victor Oladipo on the second game of a back-to-back. Officially, the reason given was injury management — a reference to the ruptured quad tendon in his right knee, an injury he suffered in January 2019. Unofficially, this was something Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Prtichard wanted when he was searching for a new coach this fall. Coach Nate Bjorkgren responded by mixing and matching his rotations.
HE SAID IT
“I think that final play was tough," Brown said. “It was not all of his (Williams') fault. When Sabonis gets going with his left hand, he’s tough. He got one tonight on us."
Celtics: Planning to stick around Indianapolis for an unusual Tuesday night rematch against the Pacers.
Pacers: Will try to win their fourth straight under Bjorkgren against Boston on Tuesday.
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Michael Marot, The Associated Press