Home Sports Jayson Tatum helps Celtics survive to take 3-0 series lead over Pacers. Did Boston prove its championship mettle?

Jayson Tatum helps Celtics survive to take 3-0 series lead over Pacers. Did Boston prove its championship mettle?

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Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) celebrates during the second half of Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals against the Indiana Pacers, Saturday, May 25, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Jayson Tatum’s favorite postseason matchups are Game 3. “Walking into an opponent’s building, it’s their first home game, the crowd is electric,” Tatum said. He is accustomed, of course, to the third battle of a series taking place on the road, as Boston has earned home field advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs for six of the seven seasons of the playoffs. Tatum with the Celtics, including a top-notch one. two seeds in each of the last three years. He dribbles aggressively, defends with intensity and rounds his huge shoulders for critical plays on the glass. He feels a moment and the need to fulfill.

Tatum saw Gainbridge Fieldhouse as a hostile environment that needed to be silenced Saturday night. The Pacers hadn’t lost in this arena, against this golden sea of ​​checkered flag jerseys, since March 18, including a 6-0 postseason run. Indiana appeared on track to extend that streak, even without injured guard Tyrese Haliburton, thanks to a spectacular display of mid-range shooting that built an 18-point lead at 6:04 of the third quarter.

The lineup and matchup adjustments made by Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla helped Boston inch toward another crucial contest. And who was it but Tatum, who finished with 36 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists (the first in NBA postseason history to add those numbers without a single turnover), achieving two in a powerful drive with little more than a minute remaining. Tatum saw that Myles Turner had sunk into the baseline and read the Pacers’ center like a children’s book. If he was here, that meant Turner left his real assignment, eternal Celtics big man Al Horford. And once Tatum convinced Turner, plus two other defenders, that he was shooting at the line, Tatum sent his dribble behind his back, the ball bouncing once and directly into Horford’s shooting pocket.

Jayson Tatum and the Celtics flexed their muscles in the second half of Game 3 to hold on and take a 3-0 series lead. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

“I trusted him to be there,” Tatum said, and Hoford’s seventh 3-pointer of the contest, five of which were assisted by Tatum, splashed the cotton. It’s the kind of playmaking brilliance that earned Tatum first-team All-NBA honors this week for the fourth straight season. It was the kind of postseason pass that will sizzle on highlight reels long after the Celtics’ streak stops cooking, something that deserves commemoration. “Hang it in the fucking Louvre,” said Celtics All-Star wing Jaylen Brown.

Boston, of course, only cares about hanging banners, and this brave 114-111 victory, with a 3-0 series lead over Indiana, may be the Celtics’ biggest claim, but the best team of the season league regular can really hold up this playoff. gauntlet. Yes, injuries have plagued each of Boston’s postseason opponents (Haliburton’s hamstring follows Donovan Mitchell’s calf, Jarrett Allen’s ribs and Jimmy Butler’s knee, etc.), but this one opening struggle against the Pacers reminded me terribly of the Celtics’ Game 2 losses in each of their games. The first two series, as jarring instances of Boston’s high-powered offense looking anything like that guy, up to that point: Boston held out.

The Celtics’ defensive execution lacked opportunity and tenacity. Aside from Tatum and Horford, the Celtics’ other shooters shot, connecting on just 4 of 22 from long range. “When those things haven’t happened to us in the past,” Horford said, “it hasn’t been good.” Mazzulla, however, has been preparing Boston for the particular challenge of this game, for the particular challenge of any game, all season long. “Joe always says, ‘He’s not always going to turn out the way we want or the way we expect,’” Tatum said. These 48 minutes rarely stick to the script, but Mazzulla preaches being willing to scribble everything in red ink.

“Joe was trying to do everything he could so we could move forward,” Horford said.

“At one point, I looked at the scoreboard and thought, ‘Dallas was down 18 last night,’ Mazzulla said, referring to the Mavericks’ comeback to take a 2-0 series lead over Minnesota in the Western Conference finals. . “This has to be normal. We have to know that we are going to lose in the playoffs and we have to get over it.”

Mazzulla and All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday have spent all season whispering on the sidelines about how to change some coverages here, reverse some actions there, to regularly disrupt their opponent. The rare ability of Holiday, just 6-foot-4, to defend all five positions unlocks almost any lineup or adjustment Mazzulla can imagine, such as placing the point guard over Turner, even after a fever left Holiday bedridden with chills. all day and its status indeterminate until warm-ups. . And so Boston showed Indiana plenty of zone before switching man-to-man with reserve center Xavier Tillman.

“We’ve switched so many times and done so many different things against everyone in the league that we really feel like we can do a lot of different things defensively,” Holiday said.

Holiday’s exclamation point of the night came on that end of the court, a classic pickpocket in transition, but that came only after the veteran guard, the only Celtics player with a championship ring, lowered his shoulder. towards Pascal Siakam and scored the goal. ahead on a three-point play with 39 seconds left. Then, after Tatum’s final and final drive missed wide, Holiday swarmed Pacers guard Aaron Nembhard as he took the rebound to the line. He absorbed a shoulder from Nembhard, who led Indiana with 32 points, and Holiday even needed to touch the wood to keep his balance. But he had passed the second-year guard, stuck his chest in front of the boy’s chest and released the ball.

“That’s a signature steal that he always gets with the inside hand,” Mazzulla said. “Usually he understands it a lot when the player comes down the wing in transition. I’ve been waiting for a couple of those. He hasn’t gotten as many as I would have liked this year. “It was an important work.”

There’s something special about Game 3. And that same pattern, a third outing being Tatum’s first of the series on the road, awaits Boston in the NBA Finals. The Celtics are just one win away from reaching the championship round for the second time in three years. And yet, these Celtics know exactly what they need to take care of on Monday. A year ago, they won three in a row after falling into this exact hole against Miami.

“We know for a second that we can’t relax,” Tatum said.

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