Boston Celtics

Tatum, Celtics show maturity in ‘chaos' of Game 1 win over Pacers

"We’ve been down a lot and figured out a way to win."

NBC Universal, Inc.

In a way, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals was a Rorschach test for Boston Celtics fans and critics.

You can choose to see the Celtics again failing to separate from an overmatched opponent at home, needing a ghastly Indiana Pacers turnover, a head-scratching Rick Carlisle coaching decision and a miracle Jaylen Brown 3-pointer to force overtime and pull out a win they probably didn't deserve. You can choose to see Jayson Tatum's 2 for 7 shooting in the fourth quarter (0 for 3 from 3-point range) as another sign he can't deliver in the clutch.

Or, you can choose to see Boston keeping its poise as things went sideways. You can choose to see Brown making an excellent defensive play to force Pascal Siakam's turnover with eight seconds remaining in regulation, then springing free for that 3-pointer on a brilliant inbound play drawn up by head coach Joe Mazzulla.

You can choose to see Tatum bouncing back from that rough fourth quarter to score 10 of the Celtics' 16 points in overtime -- including a dagger 3-pointer with 42 seconds to go -- to finish with 36 points in a hard-fought 133-128 victory.

However you view Boston's Game 1 performance, the reality is this team emerged from a frenzied 65 minutes of basketball with a 1-0 series lead.

"That s--- was chaos; that s--- was wild,” Tatum said when asked about his team's mental resilience down the stretch. “But just stay present, stay in the moment. As long as there’s time still on the clock and the game is within reach, we feel like we have a chance.

"This core group has been in so many big-time games, big-time moments. We’ve had a lead and lost it and still won. We’ve been down a lot and figured out a way to win.”

This is Tatum and Brown's 19th playoff series together over seven postseasons. They've been the plucky underdogs trying to take down Goliath (2018 East Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers), seen their lack of experience cost them against a squad of seasoned veterans (2022 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors) and been undone by a more physical, mentally tough opponent (2023 East Finals against the Miami Heat).

On Tuesday night, however, the Celtics played the role of seasoned vets, forcing the inexperienced Pacers into a playoff-high 21 turnovers and capitalizing on several crucial Indiana missteps at the end of regulation.

"I think we always knew we could (win),” said veteran guard Jrue Holiday, who had his best game as a Celtic with 28 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and three steals. “Close games I don’t think have ever bothered us. I think we’ve always stayed poised no matter if it’s a win or a loss.

"We’d always give ourselves a chance again today. But, down 3, with some seconds left, making a big shot, and making big plays after that, we knew we had it in us."

Holiday is the only player on Boston's roster who has won an NBA title (2021 with the Milwaukee Bucks), and his steadying presence is a huge reason why the Celtics went 21-12 in "clutch" games this season (score within five points within the final five minutes). But Tatum and Brown also deserve credit for showing maturity Tuesday night, bouncing back from earlier missteps to make big plays when they counted and save Boston from a disastrous loss.

"It's simple: big-time players make big-time plays," Tatum said of Brown's game-tying 3-pointer near the end of regulation.

The Celtics made plenty of errors to put themselves down three to the No. 6 seed in the closing seconds of Game 1. But unlike in years past, they now have the maturity and poise to pull themselves back from the brink.

Contact Us