UUA Sports >Football World >Celtics-Pacers: 5 takeaways from Boston's overtime victory in Game 1

Celtics-Pacers: 5 takeaways from Boston's overtime victory in Game 1


The Celtics capitalize on a handful of late mistakes by the Pacers to win Game 1 in overtime.

• Download the NBA App• Game detail: BOS 133, IND 128 (OT)

BOSTON – Someone tried to throw Tyrese Haliburton a lifeline during his rather glum postgame session with reporters Tuesday night.

It was a tough outcome for his Indiana Pacers, a 133-128 overtime loss to the Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. So one of the inquisitors charitably tried to frame it and spin it all at once: Does it help to know they didn’t win the game as much as you guys lost the game?

Haliburton didn’t take the bait.

“Well, they did win it,” he said. “And we lost it.”

The Celtics weren’t just happy beneficiaries. The Pacers didn’t have control of all that took place. You could tell it stung by how often the Pacers’ point guard sighed and shook his head. But he found a through line for his team as this moves forward.

“What I will say is encouraging,” Haliburton said, “is that we’ve been trash in Game 1s, first series and second series. And today we played great for about 47 minutes.”

The Pacers got spanked in Game 1 in Milwaukee a month ago, then took the series in six. They lost Game 1 at New York (and Game 2 for that matter) in the just completed seven-game conference semis, yet here they are.

The trouble Tuesday was, this one lasted 53 minutes. Forty-seven wasn’t near good enough. Game 2 is Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Here are five takeaways from the victory at TD Garden that put Boston up 1-0:

1. That’s the way to open a series

It was big, it was sloppy, it was crammed with key plays and glaring mistakes – and it was just what NBA fans should have wanted as the table-setter for as many as six games to follow.

Three times, the Celtics built, then blew double-digit leads. Twenty-two times, Indiana possessions ended in turnovers. Boston only trailed for 2:41 in the game’s first 43 minutes, yet needed every Pacers gaffe and Hail Mary moment it could muster just to force overtime.

“That [expletive] was chaos,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum said.

Indiana coach Rick Carlisle threw himself under the bus because he didn’t use a timeout with 10 seconds left, his team up 117-114 and Andrew Nembhard searching, searching for a teammate with his inbounds pass. The ball went out of bounds off Pascal Siakam and, naturally, the Celtics capitalized when Jaylen Brown took Jrue Holiday’s inbounds pass in the left corner and drilled a line-drive, game-tying 3-pointer.

Watch EVERY ANGLE of Jaylen Brown's WILD 3-pointer to send Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to overtime!#NBAConferenceFinals presented by Google Pixel pic.twitter.com/FCvVApOmpR

— NBA (@NBA) May 22, 2024

Had Carlisle used the timeout, the Pacers would have inbounded at the far end. Less stress, less panic. Fouling Brown? No good, because the Celtics wing already was squared up to the basket.

Then Haliburton had the ball as regulation ran out, dribbling himself into a thicket of defenders.

“I understand [Carlisle is] protecting us, protecting me as well,” Haliburton said. “But I’ll take that more than he should. I’ve got to be better and I will be better in Game 2.”

2. The shoes, oops, gotta be the shoes

Haliburton seemed incredulous over his turnovers. He only had three but two in particular were game-changers. And they were unforced, in his opinion.

“There were three different occasions where I dribbled the ball off my foot,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. Nobody forced it. Frustrating, to say the least.”

The two most damaging came on the left sideline, and he lost the ball out of bounds both times. The first was with 27.7 seconds left, snuffing hopes of extending that 117-114 lead. In the final minute of OT, he did it again and what was a 124-123 Celtics lead stretched to 127-123 when Tatum hit from way out top.

Let it be known, Indiana was a top-10 team this season in not turning over the ball, and of the four teams left, it entered this round with the lowest turnover rate (11.6 per 100 possessions). The 22 miscues matched their second-most all season.

Boston does have a pair of All-Defensive guards in Jrue Holiday and Derrick White. But Indiana’s whoopsies came every which way. Jitters seemed part of it early.

It was so debilitating that no one from Indiana bothered to grumble about Boston’s 30-10 advantage at the foul line.

3. Night lasted long enough for Tatum

Tatum missed five of his seven shots in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer out of a timeout with 36.7 seconds left and his team down three. If not for what was described above, he would have been hearing more and louder criticism about his inconsistency and unreliability.

Then in the five minutes of overtime, the Celtics’ smooth forward scored 10 of their 16 points. Five of them came off free throws. He had a 3-point play in which he abused Pacers guard T.J. McConnell inside. Then that dagger that let Boston manage its four-point lead near the end.

“He just plays with a level of poise and a level of comfort,” coach Joe Mazzulla said. “Knowing that the next one has a chance to go.”

Tatum finished with the gaudiest numbers of the night: 36 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, three steals, 10-for-12 from the line and a game-high plus-20. But he shot 12-for-26 from the field, including 2-for-8 on 3s, so there still is room for nitpicking.

“Prove? It doesn’t prove anything,” Tatum said of the performance. “We won a big-time game. Series is far from over.”

At this rate, Tatum will be hearing and responding to his critics right through the NBA Finals.

4. This is a ‘No Dame Lillard’ zone, so…

No need to rub any noses in the fact that Boston’s Jrue Holiday still is playing and that guy for whom he was traded is not. We can say that the veteran point guard was the Celtics’ most vital player Tuesday, scoring 28 points (many to bail out sketchy possessions) and captaining the defense. He had seven boards and eight assists.

Mazzulla said: “He’s the kind of guy that can impact the game in different ways every night.”

Haliburton called Holiday “the best defender in the NBA, and he has been for a long time.”

Holiday just said his mission, and his message to teammates, in Game 1 was to keep coming. This was only the second official “clutch” game of the postseason for Boston in 11 outings and the team has shown a tendency to play down to the level of its foes.

“Continually being aggressive,” Holiday said of his readiness. “Continually working on my game. Continually having the coaches and my teammates in my ear telling me they’re going to need me.”

Keeping pace with Indiana’s preferred up-and-down style was key – the teams combined for 128 points by halftime. Things got noticeably grittier from there.

5. Biggest coaches’ challenge gap ever?

Until we hear otherwise, we’re going to proclaim that Boston set an NBA mark for the greatest amount of time between using its two challenges. Mazzulla turned on the green light just 35 seconds into the game to overturn a goaltending call against Al Horford. That kept Indiana from tying the game … at 2-2.

Rewarded with a second one, Mazzulla used it with just 12.9 seconds left in overtime. He hoped to overturn a foul on Tatum, but lost that one. Obi Toppin sank two free throws for the Pacers’ final points, briefly making it 131-128.

Elapsed time between challenges: 52:11.

* * * 

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.

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