BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Celtics are approaching the final two weeks of the regular season as if the playoffs have already begun.
They started by beating a team they could see again when the postseason officially tips off.
Kyrie Irving hit a driving layup with 0.5 seconds left and the Celtics beat the Indiana Pacers 114-112 on Friday night.
Boston moved into fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Both teams have identical 45-31 records, but the Celtics lead the regular-season series 2-1, giving them the current inside track on home-court advantage in a first-round series.
Irving finished with 30 points and five assists. He has scored at least 30 points in six of his last seven games. Al Horford added 19 points and seven rebounds. Aron Baynes had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
If the current standings hold, the teams would meet in the first round. Their final regular-season meeting is Friday in Indiana.
“It was definitely a great feel-out game, if you want to call it that, for the playoffs,” Irving said. “Home-court advantage was at stake and I know we see them again one more time. We’ll see how that goes and just keep on getting better for the rest of the regular season.”
After struggling in recent weeks, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said it’s to be determined how much of it carries over.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll find out.”
Bojan Bogdanovic led the Pacers with 27 points. Thaddeus Young added 18 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
The game featured 10 ties and six lead changes.
“This is expected,” Pacers guard Darren Collison said of the tightly contested game. “Both teams are trying to play for something, so it was expected that the atmosphere was like this. Nothing less.”
Neither team will be able to relax as the regular season winds down.
Both Indiana and Boston play five of the final six games against teams currently in playoff position.
The Celtics slipped out to 105-99 lead early in the fourth quarter, after Indiana went 2:42 without a basket. But the Pacers recovered with a 6-0 run to tie the game a 105 with 4 minutes to play.
It was tied again at 107 when Marcus Smart drained a 3-pointer late in the shot clock. But Collison answered with his own 3 on the other end.
The Pacers had a chance to break another tie at 112 with less than minute to play, but Young came up short on a driving layup.
The Celtics turned it over on Smart’s errant pass coming out of a timeout, giving Indiana the ball back. The Pacers ran the clock down and it wound in the hands of Collison, who misfired on a jumper with 10.2 seconds remaining to set up Irving’s final shot.
Pacers: Finished 12 of 27 from the 3-point line.
Celtics: Baynes posted his first double-double of the season.
RESTED AND RUNNING
The Celtics entered Friday’s matchup on two days’ rest and played with energy at the outset, taking a 20-9 lead. Unlike in some of its previous losses in which its lack of fast-break points was glaring, Boston made it a point to push the ball.
Five of its first nine points came in transition and included a nice behind-the-back pass by Smart to Horford for a dunk that prompted Indiana to call the game’s first timeout.
Irving was even fresher after sitting out Tuesday’s win over Cleveland specifically to rest. He hit his first three shots.
The Pacers didn’t have a single transition basket in the first quarter, were outscored 18-6 in the paint and trailed by as many as 13.
But Indiana got 18 first-half points from Bogdanovic and trimmed the Celtics’ lead to 63-60 at the half. The Pacers kept attacking after halftime, outscoring Boston 31-26 in the third quarter to take a 91-89 lead into the final period.
Pacers: Host Orlando on Saturday.
Celtics: At Brooklyn on Saturday.
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