INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Gordon Hayward executed the game plan perfectly for Boston on Friday night.
He made all nine of his shots. He made all three of his free throws. And, he gave the Celtics the clear edge for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, too.
While Jason Tatum scored 22 points, Hayward became the first Celtics player since Kevin McHale in 1986 to make every shot and score at least 20 points as Boston pulled away from the Indiana Pacers 117-97 to break a tie for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
The victory also gave Boston a 3-1 series edge to claim the first tiebreaker, essentially giving the Celtics a two-game lead with two remaining.
“I don’t know how you guys find all these stats. More important, we got the win,” said Hayward, who scored 21 points. “It was a great job by us, a big win.”
Admittedly, Hayward has done some of his best work in his hometown.
He won the 2008 high school state championship on the Pacers’ home court. Two years later, and just a few blocks away, he came within inches of making a half-court heave for Butler to beat Duke for a national title.
But Hayward’s last appearance in Indy didn’t end well. Victor Oladipo stole his inbound pass at the buzzer to seal a 102-101 victory on Nov. 3.
This time, with the Celtics trying to build momentum for the postseason, Boston had a 23-point advantage when Hayward was on the floor. Boston has won three straight and five of six.
“Hayward is playing really well,” coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s attacking with great physicality. That’s what he does. He’s still not forcing anything that’s not there. It’s good that he’s playing this way.”
If the Pacers don’t get their defense righted quickly, it could lead to an early exit — especially if they draw the Celtics in a best-of-seven series starting next weekend.
Myles Turner had 15 points and seven rebounds to lead Indiana. Domantas Sabonis and Tyreke Evans each scored 12 points for the Pacers, whose two-game winning streak ended.
But the bigger problem was matching up with Hayward & Co. Despite allowing a league-low 104.1 points, Boston repeatedly shredded the Pacers defense.
“We kind of let them do what they wanted to do when we were on the defensive side of the basketball and just kind of let them run their offense and get into a flow,” Pacers forward Thaddeus Young said after scoring 10 points. “One of the guys that killed us was Gordon Hayward. He was 9 for 9 tonight.”
And it was that way right from the start.
After breaking to a 10-3 lead, Hayward helped fuel a 7-0 run to start the second quarter that gave Boston a 31-27 lead. They never trailed again.
Boston scored the final four points of the first half to take a 58-47 lead and only allowed the Pacers to get as close as eight — on a 3-pointer from Wesley Matthews to open the second half. The Celtics sealed the win with a 12-3 third-quarter run that made it 86-68.
Celtics: 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). ... Boston shot 52.2% from the field.
Pacers: Matthews scored 10 points after missing the previous two games with a strained right hamstring. ... Doug McDermott and Aaron Holiday each finished with 11 points. ... 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 Boston. ... Point guard Darren Collison missed his third straight game with an injured groin.
Stevens returned to his old stomping grounds with a heavy heart as the Pacers and Celtics teamed up to honor the late Andrew Smith, one of Stevens’ recruits at Butler, with Project 44 Awareness Night..
Smith’s widow, Samantha, has been working to expand the Be The Match bone marrow registry. Smith, who wore No. 44 at Butler where he played with Hayward, died in January 2016 at age 25 after battling cancer.
“It’s very cool to see for me and (assistant coach) Micah (Shrewsbury), Gordon (Hayward) and Alex Barlow, and the Pacers have been good to us, too,” Stevens said.
To join the registry, people can text ‘ANDREW’ to 38470 or visit Project44.org.
Celtics: Can clinch home-court for the first round by beating Orlando at home Sunday.
Pacers: Will try to rebound by sweeping the season series from Brooklyn in their final regular-season home game Sunday.