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Late-Game Execution Returns As Celtics Steal One From Pacers

BOSTON (CBS) -- Losers of four straight, the Boston Celtics played like a desperate bunch Wednesday night.

In the end, that desperation helped them literally steal one from the Indiana Pacers.

Boston looked destined to drop their fifth straight, down 92-89 with just over 2:33 on the clock, but they turned it all around with four steal-and-score sequences in a 93-second span.

First it was Jae Crowder, who pounced on a loose ball that trickled through the hands of Ian Mahinmi thanks to a bad pass by Monta Ellis. Crowder took it the distance to the basket to make it a one-point game before Ellis made up for his miscue with a jumper.

But after Crowder missed a three on Boston's ensuing possession, Ellis had another bad pass the Celtics jumped on. This time it was center Amir Johnson who stepped in front of it and raced down the court, dunking it home to pull the Celtics within one once again. Johnson was an aggressive beast all night, filling the stat sheet with 14 points, 18 rebounds and six assists.

Up next was Marcus Smart, who 12 seconds later snatched a pass out of C.J. Miles' hands and put in an easy layup to give Boston a 95-94 lead, sending the TD Garden into hysterics.

The Celtics nearly let more poor execution ruin the fun. Brad Stevens called a timeout with 1:09 left after an Indiana miss, drawing up an inbound play he hoped would net Boston an easy bucket. But Smart threw away the inbound pass, giving the Pacers a chance to regain the lead.

Crowder had other plans though. He capped off the four-steal stretch with another swipe, plucking the ball from a driving Paul George and going coast-to-coast for his 11th basket of the night, matching a career-high 25 points in the win. When that defensive clinic was done, the Celtics owned a 97-94 lead with :58 seconds left.

Isaiah Thomas scored the final six points of the game as the Celtics stole a 103-94 win over a team they hadn't beat in two previous tries this season.

If you thought that 93-second stretch was more like something out of a video game, you weren't alone.

"I've definitely seen it on one of the video games I've played," said Thomas, who led the way with 28 points. "That was crazy."

It was important for the Celtics to execute down the stretch and avoid falling under .500 for the first time in over two months. Even after Smart nearly gave it away, Boston didn't hang their heads and instead buckled down to finish off the victory.

"Everybody was out there talking, 'We need this game. We can't lose this game. Somebody's got to make a play.' And four different guys made four different plays in under a minute and a half," said Smart. "We just understood that we couldn't lose this game."

Smart-Celebrates
Celtics guard Marcus Smart (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Complementary basketball returned Wednesday night, as the Celtics scored 36 points off their 20 forced turnovers against the Pacers. They lead the NBA by forcing 16.3 turnovers per game.

It was just one game, but the Celtics returned to form when it mattered Wednesday night. Such execution, and bouncing back after what could have been a costly mistake, should provide a much-needed confidence boost as they look to rejoin the Eastern Conference playoff race with the season nearing the halfway point.

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