No NBA superstar gets maligned by the media more than Jayson Tatum.

Instead of focusing on his third straight first-team All-NBA appearance, pundits put him through the wringer after game two, saying that he is a poor playoff performer even after the Celtics’ 9- 2 postseason record coming into Saturday.

What will they say now?

A Tatum Tornado tore through Gainbridge Fieldhouse Saturday night as the Duke alum dropped 36 points on 12-23 shooting while grabbing ten boards, dishing out eight assists with zero turnovers. Tatum only sat one minute in the second half, and it took until the final buzzer for the Celtics to secure game three. Boston fell behind by 18 in the third quarter and trailed by eight with 2:30 to go, but stingy defense and Al Horford’s career night from three brought Joe Mazzula’s men all the way back and put Indiana on the brink.

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Facing a must-win situation and playing without All-NBA PG Tyrese Haliburton due to a hamstring injury, the Pacers fought valiantly. They put up an all-time first-half performance, scoring 69 points on 63% shooting. Brown said it best postgame: “Some of those guys turned into Michael Jordan.”

Yet, it was not enough.

Rick Carlisle’s club only mustered 21 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, as the offense ran dry. A swarming Celtics defense turned up the heat on Indiana, and Pacer turnovers and blocked shots followed. Ultimately, their poor late-game execution resulted in another excruciating loss, as the lack of experience continues to play a role at the worst possible time.

But Indiana tried its best to ensure no crunch time in the first half.

After Tatum dropped his 12th and 13th points of the first quarter at the four-minute mark, the Pacers ripped off a 40-20 run, turning a 26-19 deficit into a 59-46 point advantage over 12 minutes. With Boston down multiple bigs, Indiana made a concerted effort to smash the ball inside, and hyper-efficient offense followed. The Pacers finished the first half with a ridiculous 69% two-point percentage and 42 points in the paint. Filling in for Haliburton, Andrew Nembhard commanded the offense and had a career-high 21 points in the first half. The Celtics tried everything: new rotations, zone, and giving Xavier Tillman his first minutes of the series, but nothing worked. An 8-0 Boston run with a minute left in the first cut the lead to nine, but another miracle three at the end of the second, a Nembhard bomb from 31 feet, gave the Pacers a 69-57 lead heading into halftime.

Although it seemed that the Celtics could not play any worse and the Pacers any better, the two teams continued going in opposite directions to start the third. Boston fell behind 84-66 at the midway point of the quarter as its offense began to rush under the Pacer pressure, and it was unable to secure stops or rebounds. However, a Tatum lay-up plus the foul on the ensuing possession turned the tide.

The Celtics never ripped off a massive run like they did in games one or two, but slowly, they chipped down the Indiana lead. They picked up their defensive intensity, emphasizing active hands, resulting in blocks and steals. Their offense played off their defense as they turned turnovers into easy points in transition. Boston cut the lead in half by the end of the third and trailed 90-81 with 12 minutes to go.

However, Indiana kept Boston at arm’s length for most of the fourth. Every time the Celtics pulled within three, the Pacers knocked down another basket and pushed the advantage back out. A Derrick White long ball pulled the Celtics within four with five minutes remaining, but the Pacers scored on four straight possessions over the next three minutes and held a comfortable 109-101 lead with 2:38 left.

Once again, the game felt out of reach, and once again, the Celtics’ stars answered. Brown made a difficult fallaway jumper before a Tatum triple made it a one-possession game. After Nembhard made two free throws, Tatum made the pass of the playoffs, a no-look behind-the-back bounce pass to Horford in the corner, who canned his seventh triple. The Boston defense finally strung stops together, and a Jrue Holiday lay-up plus the foul put the Celtics in front for the first time since the first. Holiday’s heroics continued as he forced a turnover with three seconds remaining, and the Celtics led by one, before knocking down both foul shots. The former NBA champion has been invaluable to Boston in the postseason, and he made the play of the game while battling an illness.

For the second time in three games, the Celtics came from behind and stole a game from Indiana. It used to be that Boston found ways to blow winnable games, but now they are becoming the comeback kids. Even though Tatum took over, all five starters finished with double-figures as their talent became too much for the short-handed Pacers, winning game three 114-11.

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