Celtics surge late vs. Pacers, take 3-0 lead in East finals

By Thomson Reuters May 26, 2024 | 4:38 AM

Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday went the entire day feeling under the weather before spending Saturday night making the Indiana Pacers feel sick.

The 15-year NBA veteran was a thorn in the Pacers’ side during the final 38.9 seconds of Saturday’s 114-111 victory, as Boston took a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

Holiday was battling a fierce fever and spent much of the day sleeping. He wasn’t cleared to play until approximately 45 minutes before tipoff.

“I didn’t feel too well,” Holiday said. “I guess I just figured if I got a good day’s rest or tried to sleep through it, that would help me for tonight. But it’s Game 3 in the Eastern Conference finals, so I wasn’t going to miss this game.”

Holiday’s efforts present the Celtics with a chance to clinch the best-of-seven series on Monday in Indianapolis.

Holiday converted a go-ahead three-point play and added a key steal in the final seconds as Boston closed the game with a 13-2 run to hand the Pacers their first home loss in seven games this postseason.

Jayson Tatum recorded 36 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists as Boston recovered from an 18-point, third-quarter deficit. Jaylen Brown scored 24 points and Al Horford drained a career-high seven 3-pointers while scoring 23 points for the top-seeded Celtics.

Indiana’s Aaron Nesmith had a 3-pointer bounce off the rim as time expired.

Andrew Nembhard scored a career-best 32 points and added nine assists for the sixth-seeded Pacers. T.J. McConnell had 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists, Myles Turner added 22 points and 10 rebounds and Pascal Siakam also scored 22 points for Indiana, which lost at home for the first time since March 18.

The Pacers played without All-NBA Third-Team selection Tyrese Haliburton, who injured his left hamstring in Game 2.

Holiday finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and three steals, with his biggest contributions coming late in the game.

Boston trailed by five before Horford drilled a trey with 1:12 left, and Holiday added his pivotal three-point play to give the Celtics a 112-111 edge with 38.9 seconds to go.

The Pacers were later looking for a go-ahead shot and eschewed a timeout. Nembhard was handling the ball and Holiday forced it away with 3.3 seconds remaining. Holiday was then fouled and made two free throws with 1.7 seconds to play.

“I think I just made a play,” Holiday said. “I felt he’s a right-hand driver and he’s been very aggressive all night. He’s a great player and had a great game but I kind of jumped his right hand and made the steal.”

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said the situation lent itself to letting one of his players make a play.

“With eight or nine seconds left and you’re in transition after a miss, I trust our players to be able to create a better shot than calling a timeout, having them set their defense,” Carlisle said.

Said Nembhard: “I was trying to get a shot, and he got in front of me and I lost the ball.”

While Nembhard’s turnover was the most glaring play, Indiana didn’t fare well after taking an eight-point lead with 2:38 left.

“They made timely baskets,” Siakam said. “At the end of the day, we just didn’t get the job done at the end.”

Derrick White scored 13 points for the Celtics, who shot 47 percent from the field and were 16 of 46 from 3-point range.

Indiana shot 50.5 percent from the field and was a porous 5 of 22 from 3-point range. The Pacers shot just 38.3 percent overall in the second half.

Boston trailed by 18 midway through the third quarter before moving within 93-90 on Horford’s 3-pointer with 8:31 remaining in the game.

McConnell and Nembhard answered with baskets to push the lead to seven. Indiana later led 109-101 after McConnell’s driving layup with 2:38 left before the Celtics responded with the closing charge.

“The biggest thing for us is we understood it was going to be very difficult here,” Horford said of his club overcoming Indiana’s 18-point lead. “We understood the challenge. … They kept bringing it. Let’s just keep playing and stay with it.”

Nembhard scored 17 of his 21 first-half points in the second quarter as the Pacers held a 69-57 lead at the break. Indiana shot a scorching 63.6 percent from the floor in the half.

Siakam and Turner scored 15 points apiece before intermission for the Pacers. Tatum had 20 through the first two quarters for Boston.

–Field Level Media