Jayson Tatum scores 30, comes up with late blocks as Celtics hold off Pacers 129-124

BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics have won plenty of games this season by overpowering teams with their offense.

They reminded the Pacers they are just as elite on the defensive end.

Jayson Tatum scored 30 points and had two blocks in the final 30 seconds to help Boston hold off Indiana 129-124 on Tuesday night.

“You have to be able to win games with your defense,” coach Joe Mazzulla said.

He said wins like this will teach his team not to lean too heavy on its offense.

“It’s a tough balance for us because we always talk about how the game’s connected. You can’t have one without the other,” Mazzulla said. “But there’s moments when they both have to be elite. We had really good defense down the stretch and made some winning plays.”

Jaylen Brown added 25 points and Derrick White finished with 24 as Boston claimed the season series with Indiana, 3-2. The Pacers eliminated the Celtics in the quarterfinal round of the In-Season Tournament in December.

Aaron Nesmith led the Pacers with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Pascal Siakam finished with 23 points and Myles Turner added 17. All-Star Tyrese Haliburton had 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting and 10 rebounds after sitting out the previous five games with a strained left hamstring.

The Celtics led by 20 points late in the first half, but Indiana rallied and trailed 127-124 when White blocked a tying 3-point attempt by Nesmith. Tatum then denied an attempt by Turner at the rim with 29.3 seconds left, leading to a shot-clock violation.

Jrue Holiday extended Boston’s lead with two free throws. Nesmith pushed the ball up the floor and Tatum was called for a foul with 11.2 seconds on the clock as he appeared to cleanly block the shot. Boston challenged the call, and the foul was overturned after review.

Holiday said the Celtics got a reminder that they’ll have to find different ways to close out opponents.

“We’ve got to be able to fight through everything,” he said. “Fight through expectations. Fight through being up 20 and somebody having a great third quarter and finishing games. If it was easy the whole time, what’s the fun in that?”

After stumbling at the start of the teams’ two previous outings, the Celtics came out energized.

Kristaps Porzingis returned to the lineup after missing two games with a sprained left ankle. His presence inside kept Indiana honest defensively and helped Boston’s shooters spread the Pacers out. It produced open looks for the Celtics, who knocked down 17 3s on the night. Porzingis finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

Holiday also had 17 points. It was the third time this season the starting five of Tatum, Brown, White, Holiday and Porzingis all scored 17 or more.

The Pacers went on a 25-10 run in the third quarter to regain the lead at 94-93. Boston responded over the final 4:11 of the period, ending it with Neemias Queta’s dunk off a pass from Tatum to give the Celtics a 106-103 edge entering the fourth.

The Celtics surged to begin the final period, using a 16-9 run to build a 122-112 cushion with just over five minutes to play.

UP NEXT

Pacers: At New York on Thursday.

Celtics: Host the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

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