It was once again a methodical march that followed a familiar script for these Indiana Pacers: Dig a hole, then dig out of it.

Indiana spotted coach Brad Stevens' Boston Celtics an eight-point halftime advantage Friday night, allowing them to shoot 59 percent from the floor when their season average rests 20 percentage points below that mark. The Pacers were lethargic and often lazy, turning the ball over nine times while Celtics guard Jordan Crawford got off to a sizzling start, hitting all nine of his first-half shots for 19 points.

Indiana's response? Same as it has been most of the season.

Clamp down. Shore up. Finish the job.

The Pacers outscored the Celtics by 23 points in the second half to cruise to a 97-82 victory at the TD Garden, pushing their record to an 11-1, tied with San Antonio for best in the NBA. It was the same old story with the same old result: The Pacers have trailed at halftime in nine of 12 games this season; they have found a way to prevail every time but once.

"We need to stop that," said Lance Stephenson, who with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists recorded the second triple-double of his career 11 days after notching his first. "We need to destroy teams early."

They simply are not. Consider: On offense, the Pacers are averaging 41 points a game in first halves this season, ranking last in the league. They're averaging 54 in the second, tied with Miami for tops in the league.

What gives?

"They know how to work the game," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "They grind, they get a feel for the opponent and go forward. That team just buckles down in the second half."

It all centers on their league-best defense, the backbone on which they leaned heavily in a dominant third quarter. After allowing the Celtics to shoot 59 percent from the floor in the first half, Boston made just three buckets in the entire third period and shot 21 percent. The Pacers outscored them 25-8.

It was a clinic in closing.

"Like, those guys went to a different level," said Stevens, whose team dropped to 4-10 in his first season. "That was a really good basketball team in the second half that we played against."

As the Pacers continue to cement their status among the league's elite, they'll continue to face teams eager to knock off the top dog.