Los Angeles (AFP) – Jayson Tatum scored 30 points and Gordon Hayward finished with a double-double as the Boston Celtics punched their ticket to the playoffs with a 114-111 win over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.
Tatum made 11 of 22 shots from the field including a trio of three-pointers as Boston dug in for the win after twice letting big leads slip late in the game.
The Celtics looked to be cruising towards the playoffs after opening up a 16-point early in the fourth quarter
But a late Pacers rally led by Victor Oladipo closed the gap to 104-101 before T.J. Warren levelled with a three-pointer.
Domantas Sabonis made it 106-104 to Indiana with a driving layup and drew a foul to add a free throw for a three-point lead.
Boston however finished strongly with Marcus Smart leading the fightback to set up the Celtics win.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was relieved to see his team dig in for the victory after blowing their fourth quarter lead.
“We probably needed it,” Stevens said. “We needed something like that to happen — go down by three and then find a way to win.
“It’s probably a good thing for our team in the long run. We’ve got to get better in the middle of quarters and at the end of quarters but we probably needed that tonight. It was hard and that’s a good thing.
“We’ve been really good for the most part in the fourth quarter. For whatever reason we just haven’t been as good lately, let some leads slip away. I was glad we found a way to win tonight.”
The Celtics are now third in the Eastern Conference behind the Bucks and the Raptors with 43 wins against 21 losses.
The Pacers are fifth in the East with a 39-26 record.
Elsewhere Tuesday, the Houston Rockets maintained their playoff push with a 117-111 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook were the standouts for Houston, with 37 points and 27 points respectively.
Point guard D’Angelo Russell led the scoring for Minnesota with 28 points. The Rockets are sixth in the Western Conference with 40 wins and 24 losses.