How Jrue Holiday’s last-minute steal sealed Celtics comeback in Game 3 over Pacers: 4 takeaways

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By Eric Nehm, James Boyd, Jay King, Jared Weiss and Mark Puleo

The Boston Celtics erased an eight-point deficit in the final three minutes to come back and win Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals 114-111 over the Indiana Pacers.

The Celtics take a commanding 3-0 series lead with the win. No team has ever come back from down 3-0 in a series to win.

Jayson Tatum keyed Boston’s efforts all night, finishing with 36 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. His most important dime was a behind-the-back laser to Al Horford in the corner, who buried the 3 to cut the lead to two points with just over a minute to play. The 3 was Horford’s seventh of the game as the 36-year-old finished with 23 points, five rebounds and three blocks.

However, a missed Tatum layup with less than 10 seconds to play gave the Pacers one last chance to hit the game winner. Until Jrue Holiday stripped Andrew Nembhard.

Holiday, who hit the go-ahead free throw with 38 seconds to play, picked Nembhard’s pocket clean and then drew a foul on the other end to seal the victory. Holiday finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and a game-high three steals.

Nembhard starred for Indiana in the absence of Pacers’ All-NBA guard Tyrese Haliburton. Nembhard finished with 32 points and nine assists.

Game 4 is in Indiana on Monday.

What woke Boston up?

For so much of this game, it seemed the Pacers had stolen the Celtics’ identity as they were searching for an answer without Haliburton. They were spamming the post mismatches, cleaning up every time a Celtics guard switched onto Myles Turner or Pascal Siakam. The Celtics’ all-defensive guards Holiday and Derrick White were getting torched all over the place. But Boston kept chucking up 3s all night and steadily worked their way back into the game. Then with the game on the line, White and Holiday made massive defensive plays to steal the win and, most likely, this series.

Joe Mazzulla expected the best version of the Pacers before the game and that’s exactly what his team faced. With Haliburton potentially missing an elimination Game 4, the Celtics are in great position to advance to the NBA Finals now. That isn’t a surprise. This game showed that Boston’s high-volume 3-pointer approach can outlast the hottest shooting teams and their defenders can step up to secure those kinds of games. The path through the East keeps clearing for them as their opponent’s top player keeps going down. But they are still facing major tests anyway and passing them well. — Jared Weiss, Celtics beat writer

TJ McConnell, Pacers bench not enough to pull off upset

Giving up isn’t in T.J. McConnell’s DNA.

Undrafted out of Arizona in 2015, the Pacers’ backup point guard is having the best season of his career and it continued when Indiana needed him most. Despite Haliburton being sidelined, Carlisle made the right call by continuing to bring McConnell off the bench Saturday.

The veteran provided his usual spark with timely buckets and stops, all while hyping up the crowd. After drawing an offensive foul on Horford and being knocked to the ground midway through the third quarter, McConnell popped back up and simply stared at the sea of Pacers fans in front of him as if to say, “Bring it on.”

McConnell’s valiant effort spearheaded a lopsided bench performance for the Pacers. Indiana’s reserves outscored Boston’s 31-4, with McConnell leading the way with 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists in 29 minutes. He scored seven points in the fourth quarter, but it still wasn’t enough to take down the Celtics, who erased a nine-point deficit in the final frame to remain unbeaten on the road in the playoffs.

Needless to say, Indiana’s season is all but over after falling into an 0-3 hole, which no team in NBA history has ever come back from. — James Boyd, Indiana writer

Celtics need to sharpen up

Without Haliburton, the Pacers still played with their usual freedom. They took on a new mentality, though, especially because all their other guards hunted their offense inside the arc. Haliburton usually shoots mostly 3-pointers. Nembhard, McConnell and Siakam did their work much closer to the bucket. The Pacers didn’t make their first 3 until midway through the second quarter, but still dominated the Celtics defense by owning the paint.

Boston gave up 42 points in the paint during the first half, an enormous number. The most the Celtics surrendered during the regular season was 70. Interestingly, that came back in early November to a Pacers team missing Haliburton. Boston still won that game 155-104, but had a much tougher time Saturday night. Turner made six shots in the first half, all in the paint. Nembhard, McConnell and Siakam combined to go 14 for 20 from inside the paint before halftime. It took the Celtics until the third quarter to find the necessary intensity.

They still won. They staged a great comeback. But, if they win one more game to close out this series, they will need to be much sharper in the coming finals. They won’t be able to get away with such a subpar effort, which they have now had in each of their three series so far. The Celtics need to tighten it up moving forward, but made enough plays late to steal this one on the road. Holiday, playing through a sickness, was incredible late. — Jay King, Celtics beat writer

Pacers best effort not enough

Without Haliburton, the Pacers were going to need to put together their best team effort of the postseason and they brought that effort Saturday, but it just was not enough as the Celtics overcame a 12-point halftime deficit and stole Game 3 to hand the Pacers’ their first loss in Gainbridge Fieldhouse this postseason. And now, the Pacers have their backs against the wall in Game 4 on Monday in Indianapolis.

The Pacers started the game playing with force. They took a 69-57 lead into halftime behind 42 points in the paint on 21-of-30 shooting from the lane. After struggling to figure out how to get to dangerous spots on the floor against the Celtics in their first two games, the Pacers made it simple and just put their biggest players near the rim. But the Celtics took that away in the second half with blocked shots and steals and outscored the Pacers, 48-27, in the final 18 minutes of the game.

The Pacers had four players — McConnell, Nembhard, Siakam, Turner — score 20-plus points on Saturday night, but it was not enough and the Celtics now have a 3-0 lead. — Eric Nehm, NBA writer

Required reading

(Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images)

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