Celtics complete sweep of Pacers to win Eastern Conference finals: 10 takeaways




Celtics

Jaylen Brown won the Larry Bird Trophy as MVP of the series after the Celtics won another close battle in Game 4.

Jayson Tatum and Joe Mazzulla celebrated after the Celtics won Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The Celtics finished off the Pacers on Monday in yet another clutch finish, claiming a 105-102 victory in Game 4 to punch their ticket back to the NBA Finals. 

Here are the takeaways.

1. The Celtics are going back to the Finals. 

Even if you expected the Celtics to be here – even if the sky-high net rating and the dominant finish in the Eastern Conference standings and the rivals who fell off early in the postseason and the stars who were injured along the way made you believe the Finals were an inevitability – this is a moment to savor, if you are a Celtics fan, and certainly if you are a Celtics player. 

“I don’t know if ‘celebrate’ is the right word, but we want to enjoy this,” Derrick White said.” It’s a grind, it’s not easy, but we’re going to enjoy it for a little bit, and then we’re gonna lock in and do what we need to do.”

The job isn’t finished, and nobody knows that better than the Celtics. A conference finals trophy presentation feels a little strange, since it both marks a major achievement while acknowledging that the achievement is by no means the end goal. This Celtics team is too good and too deep to be satiated by a Finals appearance, as evidenced by a beaming Al Horford, who was asked after the game how hungry he is as he enters the Finals. 

“Starving,” Horford said, without missing a beat. 

Still, a nice thing about a 10-day layoff is that you can both celebrate the accomplishment of making the Finals and refocus when it’s time to prepare for them. Al Horford can take a moment to process all his emotions and blow kisses to his wife. Jaylen Brown can be visibly moved after winning the Eastern Conference finals MVP. Sam Hauser can shotgun beers in the locker room.

There’s time for all of that before they get back to business. Tuesday’s Game 4 in the Western Conference finals could determine their opponent, and then they can dive into all the necessary film. They can (in all likelihood) begin the process of establishing how to slow Luka Doncic, and how to attack Kyrie Irving. They can evaluate how adding P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford changed the Mavericks since the trade deadline. They can look inward and try to figure out how to improve problem areas that cropped up against the Pacers.

But on Monday, the Celtics earned a breather. The NBA Finals begin on June 6. The Celtics did their job, and they’ll be there. For tonight, somebody please make sure Hauser continues to stay hydrated. 

2. Brown’s reaction to winning Eastern Conference finals MVP was pretty heartwarming. 

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Brown said. “I don’t never win [expletive]. I’m just happy that we won.”

Brown might not often get hardware (or 2024 All-NBA nominations), but he has won a lot of basketball games, and Monday’s victory marked another in a long list of impressive performances during the postseason. Brown started slow but heated up as the game went on, and he was integral to four of the biggest plays in the final minutes. He scored on a tough step-through move against Obi Toppin to tie the game as the Celtics rallied back from a six-point deficit. He swatted away a layup by Andrew Nembhard that could have pushed the Pacers back into the lead. He beat Myles Turner off the bounce, drew multiple defenders, and kicked to Derrick White in the corner for the game-winning 3-pointer. And finally, as the Pacers desperately tried to foul someone in the closing seconds, Brown made a heads-up pass to the middle of the floor as the clock ran out. 

Brown finished the decisive Game 4 with 29 points, six rebounds, three assists, and three steals, adding to his resume that already included a huge 3-pointer in Game 1 and his 40-point outburst in Game 2.

MVP was a well-deserved honor.

“I think it’s even better because he didn’t expect it. That really means that that didn’t matter to him,” Jrue Holiday said. “It was about winning and whatever it took, however long it took, that’s what was important. So I think when you have that mentality and that mindset and you see great people get rewarded for the things that they do, it just brings joy. 

“I’m super excited for him. He’s been a First Team All-NBA for the whole season and wish he would’ve got that, but to see him get this award is big time.”

3. Jayson Tatum had a box score that makes perfect sense within the context of his playoff run, which is to say he had an enormous impact, missed a bunch of 3-pointers and did a little bit of everything: 26 points on 11-for-26 shooting (3-for-11 from deep), 10 rebounds, eight assists, and +6 in a three-point win. He was inefficient but – along with Brown – instrumental in wearing down the Pacers’ defense.

“It’s special. Even though we’ve been there before, most of us have, you don’t take it for granted,” Tatum said. “We were excited. It was a hell of a team we just played, they made us earn every single game and we’re extremely grateful to move on to the Finals.”

4. In addition to the game-winning three, Derrick White finished with five steals and three blocked shots.

In a funny piece of playoff magic, White’s Game 6 buzzer-beater against the Heat last season was precisely a year ago on Monday.

“It’s a pretty good day, I guess,” White said. “… Credit to the team and the coaching staff. They’ve been unreal, just always there for me, always supporting me, ups, downs, they just always believed in me. So I love them and it really starts with them.”  

5. For his part, Joe Mazzulla is now the youngest head coach to make the NBA Finals since Bill Russell in 1969. 

Mazzulla said his first priority was finding his wife in the aftermath. 

“You get to know these guys as people and you start to see how much they really care about doing anything and everything, what it takes to win,” Mazzulla said. “And you see how it impacts their families, their marriages, their wives, like all the traveling, everything we do. So just to see them to be vulnerable and open and just that sense of joy, it’s kind of why you do what you do.”

6. Hauser made his first 3-pointer of the series but finished 1-for-6 from the field and 1-for-5 from three. 

It would do the Celtics a world of favors if Hauser could find his shot before the Finals. 

7. Brown had two extra-curricular moments. On the first, he gave Myles Turner a shove to move him away from Derrick White after White took a charge. Turner took exception and gave Brown a shove in return. The two were both whistled for technicals and appeared to make amends quickly. 

“Emotions is high. He feels like he’s at home. He’s got family watching. His girl was probably watching, so he had to do something,” Brown said. “But Myles is a good kid. I’ve known Myles for a long time, we’re good friends. It’s all love.”

Brown was equally conciliatory about his second one: Going for a rebound against T.J. McConnell, Brown missed the ball and hit McConnell hard in the face. The Pacers guard crashed to the floor and appeared to be in some pain, although he continued to play. Brown did not receive a flagrant foul.

“TJ’s my guy. I got nothing but respect for TJ McConnell,” Brown said. “We talk throughout the year. We’ve talked even before this series, man. TJ is a dawg. When I said that some of those guys turned into Michael Jordan, TJ McConnell was who I was talking about. He was one of the more unstoppable players on that team. So I didn’t mean no harm. I got him in the face a little bit, but put a little dirt on it and hopefully it’ll be alright.”

8. Like every member of the Celtics who spoke postgame, we’d like to offer a quick shout-out to the Pacers for an impressive series. Every game was tight, even after Tyrese Haliburton went out. 

The series was a sweep, but the Pacers made the Celtics sweat out every win and looked far better than either of the teams the Celtics faced in the first two rounds.

9. There will be a lot of eyes right here over the next 10 days. 

Porzingis will officially have missed a month on Wednesday.

10. And finally, another shout out to Wyc Grousbeck for a classy dedication to the late Bill Walton, who died on Monday. 

Rest in peace, Bill. 





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