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Celtics steal Game 1 from Pacers and dramatically pass first real test: ‘That was chaos’

BOSTON – Everyone wanted to know how the Celtics would respond to their first real test of the NBA playoffs. Tuesday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals finally provided the answer: Chaotic.

“That’s a great word,” said Boston’s Jayson Tatum, “because that s*** was chaos. That s*** was wild.”

Jaylen Brown’s crazy three-pointer with six seconds left in the fourth quarter sent overtime, and Tatum’s consecutive three-point plays in the final 75 seconds of overtime secured a 133-128 win. reach of the feisty Indiana Pacers. Yet somehow we wonder whether or not they are linked.

This will be the sticking point on the sports talk shows on Wednesday. Brown told himself something different.

“Before the inbounds, I told myself, ‘If I take this shot, it’s going in,’” said Brown, who posted a 26-7-5 in 44:25. “I told myself all the time, ‘If you get it, it goes up and it goes in.’

If you get the win, you’re something to hold on to, I guess, but there were plenty of times when Boston felt anything but.

Brown’s turnover with 4:39 left in regulation on a two-point play was Exhibit A. He telegraphed a pass that he threw directly to Pascal Siakam, whose dunk on the other end gave Indiana a 108–104 lead.

That jam was topped off by Tatum’s pass to no one with 1:48 left in overtime. When Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton contained the careless turnover, Boston’s Derrick White fouled him on a three-point attempt in transition, giving Indiana a trio of free throws. Haliburton made all three for a 123-121 lead.

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“I’m so happy we won the game,” Tatum said, “because I would have been sick.”

The only one who played with poise all night, it seemed, was Boston’s Jrue Holiday, who scored 20 of his season-high 28 points after halftime, with eight assists, seven boards and three steals.

“Jrue came out and balled, man,” Brown said. “He’s the reason we won this game.”

There were more meltdowns. The Celtics coughed up a thirteen-point lead in the closing minutes of the third quarter. Their fourth-quarter offense got stuck in a muddy mix of isolation, 3-pointers and 3-pointers. They mixed up the open threes they made until Brown made his into Siakam’s grill.

“We didn’t necessarily play well enough where maybe we deserved to win,” said Tatum, whose night produced game-highs of 36 points, 12 rebounds and a +20 rating. “JB gave us a second chance by hitting that shot, and we just talked about it in the huddle. ‘We have a second chance. Let’s take advantage of it.’”

The Celtics had more lives than Kenny from “South Park,” and Indiana granted most of them. With his team leading 117-114 with 30 seconds remaining in regulation, Haliburton inexplicably dribbled out of bounds. Instead of attempting a game-tying 3, White missed a layup, and Tatum missed the follow-up – a fadeaway jump shot – and once again the Pacers had the ball, a three-point lead and the game in their hands.

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And once again they revived Boston, throwing the ensuing inbound pass out of Siakam’s hands. Celtic ball. Eight seconds left. Holiday feeds Brown in the corner. “Pop!” shouted ESPN’s Mike Breen. “Pop!”

“Man, that was a tough shot,” Celtics veteran Al Horford said. “A very difficult shot.”

“It’s simple: Big players make big plays,” Tatum added. “That was a great opportunity.”

“This loss is entirely my fault,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said, unprompted. “With ten seconds ahead, we should have just taken the timeout, moved the ball forward, found a way to get in, made a few free throws and ended the game, but that didn’t happen , and we made some other mistakes, but our guys just have to focus on fighting like they fought in this game from start to finish, and we’ll be back on Thursday.”

The Pacers weren’t without positives either. They recovered from a 12-0 deficit in the opening minutes. Haliburton’s 35-footer in the final second tied the game at halftime, 64-64. He scored another 3-pointer to pull Indiana within 94-93 at the third quarter buzzer. The Pacers scored five times on six possessions in the first three minutes of crunch time and took a 115-110 lead with two minutes left in the fourth quarter.

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Then it all went to hell. Or elsewhere, depending on your perspective.

“A lot of things had to go wrong for us and right for them,” Carlisle said, “and they did.”

Most of both teams were far from clutch. Some were extremely clutch. Did the Pacers fumble the bag? Did the Celtics get one out of their you-know-what? This game was completely in the eye of the beholder.

And this spectator thinks that kind of performance won’t be enough against whatever Western Conference opponent awaits in the NBA Finals. A better team would have wiped out Boston. Would have is the operative phrase. We have no idea what will happen next, as became crystal clear on Tuesday.

What we do know: Boston has played 11 postseason games, won nine, and needs seven more to win the franchise’s 18th championship. That was a great basketball game, the Celtics’ first real test and one they passed – barely, but no one will remember the grade we’re giving them right now.

We will only remember the chaos. As Brown said, “Welcome to the NBA playoffs.”

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