INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s Roy Hibbert had no mercy on Boston’s depleted front line.
The 7-foot-2 center scored 26 points as the Pacers beat the Celtics 107-100 on Monday night and remained in sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Boston had already traded away Kendrick Perkins, and Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Troy Murphy were out with injuries, leaving the Celtics thin in the post.
The last thing Boston’s remaining posts needed was foul trouble, but they dealt with it for most of the game. Kevin Garnett finished with four fouls and only played 25 minutes, and Krstic finished with five fouls and played just 17 minutes. That left the 6-9 Davis to defend Hibbert for much of the night. Davis tried to use his 290-pound frame to make Hibbert uncomfortable, but Hibbert ma de 12 of 17 shots.
“I just came out aggressive and wanted to be a force down there offensively and defensively,” Hibbert said.
It was the most points Hibbert has scored since tying a career high with 29 on Feb. 16. He had only scored more than 20 points once since.
“The kid works so hard, cares so much,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He deserves all the success that he gets.”
Boston coach Doc Rivers said the inability to defend down low turned the game.
“Kevin and Nenad were in foul trouble, and tonight, we need that extra big body,” he said. “Tonight, the foul trouble just killed us. It crushed us today.”
Danny Granger scored 18 points, and Darren Collison added 17 for the Pacers.
The Pacers entered a game ahead of Charlotte and two games ahead of Milwaukee for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Charlotte beat Milwaukee on Monday, so the Pacers remained a game ahead of Charlotte and extended their lead over Milwaukee to three games.
Indiana remained unpredictable. The Pacers won at New Jersey and Charlotte and had seemingly built momentum before losing to Sacramento and Detroit, who are among the league’s worst teams. Now, the Pacers have beaten Boston, which is fighting for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“One day, probably when I’m old and gray, I’ll try to figure out what was wrong with us — why we can beat Boston, but lose to Sacramento and Detroit,” he said. “I can’t figure it out, but we definitely needed this. We’re going to have to figure it out and some point.”
Boston point guard Rajon Rondo started after missing Sunday’s game against Minnesota with a jammed finger on his right hand. Rivers said before the game that Rondo would not play, but Rondo scored 10 points in the first 5:10 and finished with 22 points and eight assists.
Paul Pierce led Boston with 23 points, and Davis added 20 for the Celtics, who have lost seven of their last 12.
“We became a great team because we were known to do it for 48 minutes,” Garnett said. “We seem to be missing that right now.”
Monday’s game was tied in the fourth quarter before the Pacers made a run. Collison scored on a short jumper in the lane, then Hibbert found a cutting Brandon Rush to give Indiana a 98-94 lead. Collison then stole the ball from Rondo near halfcourt, and the 6-foot point guard went up for an emphatic two-handed dunk to put the Pacers ahead 100-94. A putback by Hibbert pushed Indiana’s lea d to eight with 3:52 to play.
Boston hung close, but Collison made a fadeaway jumper with 1:16 left, then made a driving layup with 34.4 seconds remaining to give Indiana a 106-100 lead.
Collison scored eight points in the fourth quarter.
“He gave us a huge spark and really sealed the deal for us,” Vogel said. “We knew we had to score some points on the break and that’s what he did — getting those loose balls and a couple steals. You have to score in transition against that defense.”
A 3-point play by Hibbert early in the second half pushed Indiana’s lead to 67-57, but Boston responded with an 8-2 run. A jumper by Ray Allen cut Indiana’s lead to 69-65 and caused the Pacers to call timeout. The Celtics made six of their first seven shots in the second half.
Allen hit a 3-pointer to put Boston up 72-71 with 5:04 left in the third quarter, and the Celtics extended their lead to 85-81 at the end of the period.
“Boston made a huge, third-quarter run, and we put them to the free-throw line too many times,” Vogel said. “Once we decided to start defending without fouling, we were able to get enough stops to get the ‘W.”’
The Celtics shot 4 for 14 from the field and 6 for 12 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
“Our third quarter was really bad, and the fourth quarter, we clamped it down on them and made it tough for them to score,” Granger said.
Indiana shot 12 for 18 from the field in the fourth quarter.
“In the most important part of the game, the fourth quarter, we couldn’t get a stop right there,” Pierce said. “It’s a weird time to be talking about this, when there are nine games left in the season.”