The Boston Celtics had seen this story before.

Last season, the Celtics were trailing 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they knew one win was all they needed. Even though they fell in a seventh game, that experience gave them the urgency to close out the Indiana Pacers on their first attempt Monday night.

For the third time in four games, Indiana led in the fourth quarter, had a 90% winning percentage and was on the verge of making the Eastern Conference Finals a competitive series. However, like they did in games one and three, Boston turned it up as the minutes ticked down. Trailing 102-98 with 3:30 left, the Celtics suffocated a red-hot Pacer offense and did not allow another point. While sporadic, the offense made timely baskets, including the game-winning corner three by Derrick White off a one-handed Jaylen Brown assist, putting the Celtics up by three with 30 seconds left. Boston survived the remaining half-minute and booked their spot in the NBA Finals after coming up agonizingly short the last two seasons. Postgame, Brown took home ECF Finals MVP, the first of his career, averaging 29.8 PPG on 51% in the series. After the All-NBA snub, a grin went from ear-to-ear on Brown’s sweat-soaked face, finally displaying emotion after a challenging week. While every Celtic repeated, they still have one more series to go at the trophy presentation, and the comeback tour will continue.

However, in the first 12 minutes of the game, it seemed that the only thing continuing was the ECF. Boston knocked down four of its first five three-point shots, extending a streak of starting hot at the beginning of games while racing to an eight-point lead. However, it was their most significant advantage of the contest as the Pacers stormed back and controlled the pace of play for most of the night. As he has all season, T.J. McConnell came off the bench and provided an immediate spark. He quickly scored six points in 90 seconds, pulling the Pacers within three. As the buzzer sounded to end the first, his free-throw line runner found the bottom of the net and seized momentum for his men.

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Without Tyrese Haliburton for the second straight game, Andrew Nembhard operated point guard duties, following up his career night in game three with another awe-inspiring performance in game four. The Gonzaga alum hit two threes on back-to-back possessions, giving Indiana their first lead, 33-32, at the ten-minute mark of the second. Nothing could separate these two sides as they fought between one possession of each other for the next eight minutes until a Brown three put Boston up 55-51 with two minutes left in the second. A Nembhard buzzer-beater, Indiana’s second of the day, cut the deficit to three heading into the break.

After being relatively quiet for the Pacers’ standards, the offense exploded in the third. Three triples in the first three minutes, two from Myles Turner and one from Nembhard, quickly put the home team up four. A quick Joe Mazzulatimeout slowed the pace down and brought the Celtics back into the game, but Obi Toppin’s contributions off the bench put the Pacers up by five multiple times late in the third quarter. The Celtics struggled all quarter long, shooting an abysmal 8-22 from the field with five turnovers. Another late three from Brown, his third of four on the night, kept the game at one possession, 83-80, going into the fourth.

Like the third, the Pacers’ offense dismantled the Boston defense. Six quick McConnell points put Indiana up by seven, forcing Mazzula to call another early timeout. Indiana pushed their lead to nine with eight minutes to go as Boston’s outside shooting dried up. The Celtics went 2-12 from long-range in the third and 4-18 since the end of the first quarter as the extended minutes started to wear on the starters. But, like they did all series, they stayed in the fight.


Trailing 98-90 with six minutes remaining, the Jays, Jayson Tatum, and Brown took the game over. Brown’s free throws and a Tatum triple cut the lead to five before Jrue Holiday’s basket, plus the foul made it a one-possession game with four minutes on the clock. Tatum and Brown again scored back-to-back baskets a minute later and tied the game at 102. At that point, the intensity turned the game into a mess. The game went scoreless for over a minute as the sides traded turnovers and blocked shots. Brown made the defensive play of the game with a minute left, swatting a Nembhard drive before making the pass that led to the White GW triple.

After the dust settled and Holiday secured the offensive rebound on Tatum’s missed three, Boston survived 105-102. Brown knocked down 29 points on 11-22, and Tatum was right there with him, going 11-26 from the floor and scoring 26 points. The Celtics struggled in all four games with the Pacers’ spacing and prolific shot-making, but in the end, their experience and will drove them back to the NBA Finals after a year hiatus.

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