TTX Sports >Football World >Celtics-Pacers: 5 takeaways from Boston's East-clinching Game 4

Celtics-Pacers: 5 takeaways from Boston's East-clinching Game 4


The Celtics showed the same two-way excellence as their Eastern Conference Finals MVP, Jaylen Brown, in Game 4.

• Download the NBA App• Game detail: BOS 105, IND 102

INDIANAPOLIS — The Boston Celtics are right where they’re supposed to be.

They were 14 games and 6.7 points per game better than any other Eastern Conference team in the regular season. Now they’re heading to the NBA Finals, having lost just two games (fewest for any finalist in the last seven years) through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

The Indiana Pacers gave the Celtics three close games in the Eastern Conference Finals, but Boston came back from another fourth-quarter deficit and completed the sweep with a 105-102 victory on Monday.

Jaylen Brown earned the Larry Bird Trophy as series MVP, having averaged 29.8 points (52% shooting), 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists over the four games. He made the biggest shot of the series (a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation in Game 1) and assisted on the next biggest shot (Derrick White’s go-ahead 3 on Monday).

“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Brown said of winning the award. “I never win (expletive). I was just happy that we won.”

To win, the Celtics needed contributions throughout their rotation to dispatch “a team that just would not quit,” as Al Horford described the Pacers.

Here are some notes, quotes, numbers and film as the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals for the 23rd time in franchise history.

1. More clutch success for the Celtics

Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Celtics had played just 79 seconds of “clutch time,” where the score was within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. In this series, they played 18 minutes of clutch time across Games 1, 3 and 4.

They’re now 25-12 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes this season. That includes a 4-0 mark in the playoffs, having scored 53 points on 41 clutch offensive possessions (1.29 per).

Previous versions of this team have often been maligned for their late-game execution. Over the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons (including playoffs), the Celtics were 38-53 (.418) in clutch games.

But head coach Joe Mazzulla and his staff have been doing extra prep on those situations. Assistant coach (and new Charlotte Hornets head coach) Charles Lee revealed in an X spaces conversation earlier this season that the staff had meetings to go over late-game situations before every home game, “watching film of other teams, watching film of ourselves and hashing through situations.”

“It’s a big part of the game now,” he said. “You want your team to be prepared, or we just need to be prepared for, ‘what is our philosophy in this situation?'”

A bigger stage is waiting, but so far, all that preparation seems to be paying off.

“We feel comfortable in any type of game,” White said. “I feel like we got answers for anything that teams throw at us, no matter what the scenario is. We just got to find the right one.”

2. Celtics shut down Pacers’ potent offense down the stretch

The right answers down the stretch of Game 4 were mostly on defense. The Pacers were without Tyrese Haliburton for a second straight game, but have been difficult to defend no matter who’s been on the floor.  Haliburton’s backup, T.J. McConnell, was also one of the players Boston had the toughest time stopping.

In the end though, the Celtics got the stops they needed, holding Indiana scoreless on its final six possessions of Game 4 to turn a four-point deficit into a three-point win. The Pacers missed some open looks, but Boston also made some big defensive plays.

With a little more than two minutes left, Brown helped on a Pascal Siakam drive and knocked the ball away. On the Pacers’ next possession, Jayson Tatum helped on an Andrew Nembhard drive and got his hands on the ball.

On the next trip, Brown seemingly erred by not containing Nembhard’s drive after Siakam screened White, but the series MVP recovered to block Nembhard’s layup:

Jaylen Brown block on Andrew Nembhard

Two nights earlier, Al Horford made an incredible block in transition and Jrue Holiday had the game-saving steal.

This opponent is tough to stay in front of, but the Celtics had the second-ranked defense in the regular season for a reason. They have multiple great defenders.

That includes White, who had five steals and three blocks in Game 4. His eight steals/blocks were two more than any player has had in a playoff game this year. Over the past three postseasons, only Anthony Davis (10 in a first-round game last year) has had as many.

3. Celtics continue to play the mismatch game

Over the four games in this series, there were 71 ball-screens set for Tatum, who also set 46 ball-screens himself. No matter the direction, the screens had the same purpose: get Tatum matched up with a lesser, smaller and/or less mobile defender.

With Haliburton out again for Game 4, those defenders included McConnell, Ben Sheppard, Myles Turner and Doug McDermott.

Sometimes it was about Tatum taking those players off the dribble. After getting a screen from Horford in the second quarter, he blew by Turner with a wicked in-and-out dribble:

Jayson Tatum dunk

Sometimes it was about Tatum playing big. And of course, the mismatches don’t have to result in a shot for the Celtics’ leading scorer because he’s developed into a terrific playmaker.

Late in the first quarter, Tatum screened McConnell, took him into the paint (where the 6-foot-1 guard was helpless), drew baseline help from Isaiah Jackson and lobbed the ball up for Horford:

Jayson Tatum assist to Al Horford

Brown isn’t the playmaker that Tatum is and his assist numbers aren’t really improved from previous postseasons, but he played unselfishly out of mismatches on Monday. There was a first-half possession where he posted Nembhard and got rid of the ball quickly when he was double-teamed, with the result being a layup for Tatum after he attacked the rotating defense:

Jayson Tatum layup after Jaylen Brown is double-teamed

And after the Celtics went scoreless on three straight possessions down the stretch, a Holiday screen got Brown matched up with Turner. He took the big man off the dribble, drew help from McConnell and found White in the right corner for the go-ahead bucket:

Jaylen Brown assist to Derrick White

4. Celtics should be fresh (and whole?) for the Finals

When the Celtics reached the Finals two years ago, they had played 18 games: a competitive sweep of Brooklyn (all four games were within five points in the last five minutes) and two seven-game series (that they trailed at one point) against Milwaukee and Miami. Boston barely had time to regroup before Game 1 of the Finals began on the other side of the country against Golden State.

“It was a lot for our group,” Al Horford said Monday. “It was very overwhelming, and I thought we were playing catch [up] the whole time.”

This year, the Celtics will have nine days off before the Finals begin at home. They earned that advantage with a dominant regular season, and they’ve earned the rest with a similarly commanding postseason.

“I feel like we’re more mature obviously,” Horford said, “and we’re in a better place.”

They should also have another key piece back in the rotation. Kristaps Porzingis has missed the last 10 games after suffering a calf strain in Game 4 of the first round. He was listed as out on the initial injury report for Monday, but he was reportedly close to a return and should be ready to go for Game 1 of the Finals on June 6.

The Celtics are 31-10 (including 3-1 in the playoffs) when they’ve had all five of their regular starters available. Their lineup with Horford in Porzingis’ place has been terrific in the postseason (plus-18.0 points per 100 possession), but this team is obviously better (and more versatile) with everybody healthy.

Having Horford and Porzingis also allows the Celtics to play big without sacrificing their offensive spacing, which they do when another big (Luke Kornet or Xavier Tillman) is needed to play.

5. Pacers’ unexpected playoff run comes to an end

It stinks that the Pacers’ season ended with Haliburton missing the last two games, but this was a terrific postseason run for what is a pretty young core of players. When they traded for Siakam in January, the deal was seemingly more about the next few seasons than this one, and they’ve now gained some immeasurable playoff experience.

“I thought they were as tough as anybody we played all season,” Brown said. “They were physical, they were fast, they put a lot of pressure on us.”

The Pacers have an incredible offense that’s been impossible to guard at times, and they’ve shown that regular-season success on that end of the floor can carry over into the playoffs. It’s been the second-most efficient offense in the postseason, with seven players averaging double-figures and none averaging more than Siakam’s 21.6 points per game.

Of course, the Pacers need to re-sign the 30-year-old Siakam, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Obi Toppin (restricted) is the only other free agent in their playoff rotation and they’ll be getting Bennedict Mathurin (shoulder surgery) back in the fall.

The Pacers also need to come back a better defensive team, and that could start with Haliburton, who just earned All-NBA Third Team honors, giving him an extra $45 million on the five-year contract extension that kicks in on July 1. Haliburton is one of the best offensive players in the league, but for good reason he was the primary target of the opposing offense over the last two series.

* * *

John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for 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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