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How Celtics’ clutch defense won Game 4 to sweep Pacers, advance to NBA Finals: 4 takeaways


How Celtics’ clutch defense won Game 4 to sweep Pacers, advance to NBA Finals: 4 takeaways

By Jay King, Jared Weiss, Eric Nehm, James Boyd and Hunter Patterson

INDIANAPOLIS — The Boston Celtics are heading back to the NBA Finals for the second time in three seasons, sweeping the Indiana Pacers and winning Game 4 105-102 on Monday.

Jaylen Brown posted a game-high 29 points along with six rebounds, three steals and four 3-pointers to lead the Celtics. Jayson Tatum nearly had a triple-double, adding 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Boston’s starting five combined for 95 of its 105 points.

Andrew Nembhard continued his offensive surge to lead the Pacers, finishing with team-highs of 24 points and 10 assists while adding six rebounds on 10-of-16 shooting.

The second-year guard averaged 28 points, 9.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds over the last two games with All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton sidelined with a left hamstring strain.

Game 1 of the NBA Finals will be played in Boston on June 6 against either the Dallas Mavericks or Minnesota Timberwolves.

Celtics execute down the stretch

The longstanding question about the Celtics has been: How will they execute at the end of close games? Their history of late-game freakouts, for lack of a better word, has stuck with them as a concern. They owned crunchtime throughout the Eastern Conference finals.

Once again, the Celtics found themselves in danger in the fourth quarter while trailing by as many as nine points. T.J. McConnell had a great chance to put the Pacers ahead by 11 points three minutes into the quarter, but his missed layup led to a Brown 3-pointer at the other end of the court.

Though Indiana didn’t go away, Boston controlled the rest of the fourth quarter, piling up steals and blocks, and doing just enough offensively. After missing a couple of opportunities after they pulled even, Brown found Derrick White in the corner for a go-ahead 3-pointer.

Jrue Holiday sealed the game with an offensive rebound on the next Boston possession.

The Celtics pulled out two games earlier in this series after being in serious fourth-quarter trouble. In Game 1, Brown forced overtime with a corner 3-pointer in the final seconds. In Game 3, Boston needed a huge comeback after trailing by 18 points in the second half.

Despite the sweep, the series was competitive all along. The Celtics found their way in close games, though. They could use similar crunch-time poise in the finals, but will have a tougher challenge likely against Luka Dončić, Kyrie Irving and the Mavericks. — Jay King, Celtics beat writer

Boston completes tough sweep

The Celtics are heading to the finals after another frantic finish to pull off one of the toughest sweeps this team has seen. The Pacers elevated their game in every way after losing Haliburton, forcing Boston to hone its end game execution and defensive effort.

Brown’s scoring has carried the Celtics through offensive downturns and he did it again in the second half. But it was his big stop on Nembhard in the closing minute and then his drive through traffic to find White for the game-winner that defined Brown’s performance in this series.

Barring an unprecedented comeback from the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Celtics are going to face the Dallas Mavericks, who play a different brand of basketball than Indiana but will be even more formidable in late-game execution. That was the one thing that doomed Indiana, as Boston’s defense and playmaking were the separators in this series.

The Celtics have proven they know what they want to get into when the game is on the line and that they can elevate their defensive execution in those moments. Now they are four wins away from their 18th NBA championship. — Jared Weiss, Celtics beat writer

Indiana fights until last seconds

No one would have blamed the Pacers for throwing in the towel in Game 4. Down 3-0 in the series without Haliburton, the game could have easily turned into a blowout and the Celtics could have cruised to the NBA Finals.

Instead, the Pacers competed and fought until the very last seconds of Monday’s 105-102 Game 4 loss.

Nembhard was spectacular again, but the Pacers saw their season end on their home floor. Pascal Siakam added 19 points and 10 rebounds to try to help keep the season alive and McConnell was once again spectacular off the bench.

All postseason long, the Pacers were defined by their willingness to fight for every second of every game and that was no different in the Eastern Conference Finals. — Eric Nehm, senior NBA writer

Pacers shoot well but can’t withstand dagger 3

The Pacers took a page out of the Celtics’ book with their hot 3-point shooting through three quarters. Indiana entered Game 4 trailing Boston 46-29 in made threes in the Eastern Conference finals but matched the Celtics with 10 3-pointers in the first 36 minutes to take a 3-point lead heading into the final frame.

Six different Pacers made a 3 through three quarters, including Myles Turner who drilled two 3-pointers early in the second half to put Indiana ahead by five points.

But the fourth quarter belonged to the Celtics, punctuated by White’s go-ahead corner 3-pointer with 45 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner.

Boston’s timely 3-pointers shouldn’t come as a surprise for a team that ranked No. 1 in the NBA with 16.5 made 3-pointers per game during the regular season. The Celtics also shot 38.8 percent from distance during the regular season, ranking No. 2 in the league.

After shooting just 2-of-12 on 3-pointers in the third quarter, Brown got the Celtics back on track with two 3s in the fourth quarter, and Tatum added another to keep the Pacers from running away with the game before Boston did what it’s done all series long: win in the clutch.

White’s dagger 3 ripped the Pacers’ hearts out after fighting desperately to extend their season, which ended in the conference finals following their first appearance in a decade. — James Boyd, staff writer

This story will be updated.

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(Photo: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

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