INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe Indiana really is that good.
And perhaps Boston really is that bad.
Eight days after Indiana won at Boston, the Pacers thumped the Celtics again, this time 97-83 on Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The first time, some considered it luck. Now, the Pacers say they can’t be overlooked.
“I think the message is that we’re a force to be reckoned with in the East,” said Pacers forward Danny Granger, who scored 21 points. “It’s not one of those fluke things where we just started having a good beginning of the season. We’re actually a legitimate contender in the East. We’re right there, and we should be recognized as that.”
While Indiana (9-3) is riding a wave of confidence, Boston dropped its fourth straight game. Boston coach Doc Rivers was concerned about playing the Pacers, especially following a home loss to Chicago on Friday night.
“Honestly, it’s a bad game going into,” he said. “You knew it would be a tough one, with a back-to-back like that. We saw that when I saw the schedule.”
Indiana was on a back-to-back too, but its young legs and depth made that a non-issue.
“We’ve been stressing to push the tempo more than we did early in the season,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We just push the tempo, push the tempo, wear them out and put someone fresh in. That’s how we want to play every night.”
The swagger normally associated with the Celtics was in the other locker room.
“I like to say to the guys in the locker room, we’re the best-kept secret,” Indiana center Roy Hibbert said. “Nobody’s talking about us. Indiana Pacers are best-kept secret. Let everybody talk about the teams and have them ranked ahead of us, and we’re just going to go ahead and just do our business and chop them down.”
Boston’s problems might be just beginning. Though Boston’s best player now is 25-year-old Rajon Rondo, the remaining starters, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Jermaine O’Neal, all are at least 33 years old.
“One thing you can’t battle, you can’t fight, is age,” Granger said. “They all are Hall-of-Famers, but you get to a point where age catches up with you and it’s hard to compete at the level you once competed at. I don’t know if they’re there yet. They still could bounce back this season. I’m just glad we had the two wins.”
Pierce and Garnett both scored 21 points for the Celtics, but Brandon Bass was the only other Celtic in double figures with 10 points. Boston (4-7) fell to 1-4 on the road.
Paul George and Darren Collison each scored 17 points, and Hibbert added 11 points and nine rebounds for the Pacers, who won their third straight. Indiana improved to 5-0 at home, with four wins by double digits.
The Pacers held the Celtics to 39 percent shooting and won easily, despite shooting 37 percent themselves. Indiana outscored the Celtics 22-14 from the free-throw line and had 23 second-chance points.
“Whenever shots fall, they fall, but we’re winning, and that’s all I can say,” Hibbert said.
Indiana led 56-48 at halftime, then took control after the break.
Hibbert blocked a shot by Garnett, then Collison drained a 3-pointer at the other end to give the Pacers a 67-54 lead and force Boston to call timeout.
Pierce hit a 3-pointer right out of the timeout, but Indiana quickly reasserted itself. A 6-0 run, including a jumper and a fast-break layup by Collison, helped Indiana take a 75-60 lead. Collison’s baskets were part of a 9-0 run by the Pacers during which they held the Celtics scoreless for five minutes.
Collison scored 11 points in the third quarter to help Indiana take an 82-67 lead. The Pacers held the Celticsto 7-for-22 shooting in the period.
“We shot a lot of jump shots,” Rivers said. “I told them, back-to-back night is not a jump-shot night. Everything is going to be in front of the rim. It’s a post night, and I thought we got away from that.”
Indiana never looked back. A dunk by George gave the Pacers a 91-73 lead with just over four minutes remaining.
Granger, who has endured Indiana’s recent losing seasons, is pleased with the way the Pacers have evolved.
“We’ve gained a lot of experience,” he said. “We’ve made good trades, our younger players have grown, and it’s shown with our success this year. It’s special to see.”
Notes: Pierce passed Kevin McHale and moved into third place in Celtics history in games played (972). He still trails John Havlicek (1,270) and Robert Parish (1,106). … Purdue coach Matt Painter attended the game to watch two of his former players, Boston forward JaJuan Johnson and Boston guard E’Twaun Moore. Moore and Johnson both entered the game in the second quarter. Moore hit a 3-pointer late in the third quarter and finished with seven points. Johnson had a dunk in the final minute and finished with four points. … Allen, who entered the game leading the league in 3-point percentage, made 1 of 3 and finished with seven points. … Boston failed to score more than 100 points for the ninth straight game.