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

INDIANAPOLIS — Jayson TatumHis favorite postseason matchups are Game 3s. “Going into the opponent’s home building, it’s their first home game, and the crowd is excited,” Tatum said. He was used, remember, to the third battle of the series taking place on the road, as well Boston He had home-court advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs during six of Tatum’s seven seasons with the NBA Celtics, including the top two seeds in each of the past three years. He dribbles aggressively, defends aggressively and pivots around his massive shoulders to make decisive plays on the glass. It feels the moment and the need to deliver.

Tatum viewed Gainbridge Fieldhouse as a hostile environment he needed to silence on Saturday night. the Pacers They haven’t lost on this arena, to this golden sea of ​​checkered flag jerseys, since March 18 — including a 6-0 postseason slate. Indiana He looked well on his way to extending that streak, even without the injury to the All-Star point guard Therese Halliburtonthanks to a strong mid-range shooting display that held an 18-point lead until 6:04 in the third quarter.

Lineup tweaks and matchup adjustments made by Celtics coach Joe Mazzola helped Boston claw its way to another contest at a crucial time. And who was that other than Tatum, who finished with 36 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists – the first in NBA history to record those numbers without a single turnover – as he drew two points on a powerful layup with just over a minute remaining. . Tatum saw Miles Turner He had stepped back from the baseline and read the Pacers center like a children’s book. If he’s here, it means Turner has left his actual calling, the Celtics’ perennial big man. Al Horford. Once Tatum convinced Turner, as well as two other defenders, that he was driving down the lane, Tatum sent a dribble behind his back, and the ball bounced one time straight into Horford’s shooting pocket.

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

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

“I was confident he was going to be there,” Tatum said, and Tatum notched Hufford’s seventh hat-trick of the contest — five of them assisted by Tatum — via the cotton. It’s the kind of playmaking brilliance that earned Tatum first-team All-NBA honors this week for the fourth straight season. This was the kind of postseason pass that will be blaring on the highlight reels much later when the Celtics’ run stops cooking, and it’s something worth celebrating. “Hang it in the fucking Louvre,” he said. Jaylen BrownCeltics All-Star wing.

Boston, of course, only cares about hanging signs, and This brave victory 114-111, which claims a 3-0 lead over Indiana, may be the Celtics’ greatest claim, yet the best regular-season team in the league can really withstand this playoff challenge. Yes, Injuries have affected each of Boston’s postseason opponents – Haliburton hamstrings follow Donovan MitchellHurry and Jarrett AllenRibs and Jimmy ButlerCeltics knee and all – but that early struggle against the Pacers was terribly reminiscent of the Celtics’ Game 2 losses in each of their first two series, such glaring instances when Boston’s high-powered offense looks like this, up to this point – Boston held on.

The Celtics’ defensive execution lacked timing and tenacity. Outside of Tatum and Horford, the Celtics’ other shooters made shots, connecting on just 4 of 22 from long range. “When these things haven’t happened to us in the past, it hasn’t been good,” Horford said. However, Mazzola has been preparing Boston for the challenge of this game, for any given challenge in any game, all season long. “Joe always talks about how things won’t always go the way we want or expect,” Tatum said. These 48 minutes rarely make it into the script, but Mazzola calls for a willingness to scribble over everything in red ink.

“Joe was trying to do anything and everything he could to move us forward,” Horford said.

At one point, I looked at the scoreboard and said,Dallas “It was down by 18 last night,” Mazzola said. In reference to the Mavericks’ comeback to steal a 2-0 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 play through it.

Mazzola and All-Star point guard Puppy vacation They’ve spent the entire season whispering across the sideline about how they could change some coverage here, reverse some action there, to regularly disrupt their opponent. At just 6-foot-4, Holiday’s rare ability to guard all five positions opens up almost any lineup or adjustment Mazzola can imagine, such as gluing point guard on Turner — even after a fever left him bedridden with chills all day with his position undecided. Even warm-ups. . Boston thus showed Indiana plenty of space before switching to man-to-man with a backup 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 that evening came on that side of the floor, a vintage pickpocket in transition, but it came only after the veteran point guard, the only Celtics player with a championship ring, lowered his shoulder to Pascal Siakam He gave the green light to play for three points with 39 seconds left in the game. Then, after Tatum’s last and final attempt went wide, Holiday swept past Pacers guard Aaron Nembhard as he sent the rebound across the timeline. He grasped the shoulder of Nembhard, who led Indiana with 32 points, and Holiday needed to touch wood in order to keep the balance. But he immediately hit the sophomore guard, put his chest in front of the kid’s chest, and released the ball.

“It’s brand theft that he always gets with the inside hand,” Mazzola said. “He usually gets that a lot when a guy comes down the sideline in transition. I was looking forward to a couple of those. He didn’t get as many as I wanted this year. It was a big play.”

There’s something about Game 3. That same pattern, a third outing, Tatum’s first of a series on the road, awaits before Boston in the NBA Finals. The Celtics are just one win away from reaching the championship round for the second time in three years. However, the Celtics know exactly what to pay attention to on Monday. A year ago, they won three in a row after falling into exactly this hole Miami.

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

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