Celtics use furious rally to win Game 3, push Pacers to brink

INDIANAPOLIS — As Andrew Nembhard got here streaking down the left aspect of the courtroom within the closing moments of Recreation 3 of the Japanese Convention finals inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse, along with his Indiana Pacers down one and seeking to, in some way, claw their manner again into this sequence with All-NBA level guard Tyrese Haliburton watching in road garments, Boston Celtics guard Jrue Vacation was with him step for step.

However then, as Nembhard tried to chop into the center of the courtroom — the place he and the Pacers had feasted on Boston’s protection for many of the evening — Vacation knew what was coming.

“He is a right-hand driver,” Vacation would say later, “and he’d been very, very aggressive all evening.”

And, as Nembhard went to that proper hand, Vacation stole the ball from him and raced to the opposite finish of the courtroom, the place he finally hit a pair of free throws that offered the ultimate scoring margin on this sport:

That rating — Celtics 114, Pacers 111 — gave Boston a 3-0 lead on this best-of-seven sequence and moved the Celtics to inside a single victory of advancing to the NBA Finals for a second time in three years. And, after the Celtics spent a lot of this sport watching Indiana get no matter it wished defensively, it was becoming that, after Boston fully flipped that script within the closing minutes of the sport, it was a defensive play by Vacation, lengthy thought of one of many league’s elite perimeter defenders, that turned the ultimate nail in Indiana’s coffin.

“That is a trademark steal that he at all times will get with the within hand,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla stated. “He will get that quite a bit often when a man is coming down the sideline, however he bought it in transition.

“He made a big-time play.”

It was precisely the sort of play the Celtics acquired Vacation to make once they swung a blockbuster take care of the Portland Path Blazers on the eve of coaching camp — after Portland had landed Vacation from the Milwaukee Bucks as a part of a package deal for Damian Lillard just a few days earlier — to pair him with Derrick White and kind the NBA’s finest defensive backcourt.

Solely moments earlier than his defensive play, nevertheless, Vacation had bulled his solution to the rim and given Boston the lead by changing an and-1 layup over Pacers ahead Pascal Siakam — one other instance of the sort of play that Vacation, who completed this sport with 14 factors, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and a block in 38 minutes, was delivered to Boston to make as he hopes to observe up his championship ring with the Bucks from three seasons in the past with one other one subsequent month.

And that layup set the stage for Vacation to then decide Nembhard’s pocket within the sport’s greatest second.

“I used to be attempting to get a shot up,” stated Nembhard, who in any other case performed a superb sport, ending with 32 factors and 9 assists in 39 minutes as he took on many of the playmaking duties rather than Haliburton, who reaggravated the left hamstring damage that has bothered him for the previous few months in Recreation 2. “He bought in entrance of me. I misplaced the ball, slipped. Turnover.”

When Nembhard got here into the frontcourt in opposition to Vacation, he did not have a bonus, as Boston was fast to get again on protection after a Jayson Tatum drive to the basket resulted in a missed layup — precisely the sort of state of affairs that, usually, results in an odd-man benefit for the defending group.

In consequence, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was requested after the sport why he selected to let issues play out relatively than calling a timeout.

“With 8 or 9 seconds left, and also you’re in transition after a miss … I belief our gamers to have the ability to create higher pictures than calling timeout and having them set their protection,” Carlisle stated. “It is extra of a play basketball-type state of affairs, and we have completed effectively this yr trusting our gamers.”

The Celtics additionally belief Vacation implicitly to make the appropriate play, and never commit a foul, in that kind of state of affairs — simply as they trusted him to play regardless of being questionable to play all day and lacking shootaround after coping with a non-COVID sickness.

“I imply, cannot communicate extremely sufficient about Jrue,” stated Tatum, who had a terrific sport for the Celtics, ending with 36 factors, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and no turnovers in 44 minutes. “The final word teammate competitor, clearly a champion, wasn’t at shootaround immediately, he was sick. Coping with chills and stuff like that. And we have all been there, how robust that’s, to combat via it, and for him to return on the market and lay all of it on the road for us, make the game-winning play primarily, particularly on the defensive finish.

“Jrue is only a big-time participant, and he made an incredible play.”

It was a play that, finally, helped cowl up what was a scattershot efficiency for many of the evening. Indiana led by as many as 18 factors on this sport regardless of lacking its talisman in Haliburton. Tatum’s offense, together with 15 first-quarter factors, was largely liable for holding the Celtics within the sport earlier than Boston finally started chipping away at Indiana’s lead late within the third quarter.

Then, the Celtics closed the sport with a 13-2 run over the ultimate 2:38 of sport motion, following up a T.J. McConnell bucket that put Indiana up 109-101 with a Jaylen Brown midrange bucket; a Tatum 3-pointer; an Al Horford nook 3-pointer off an incredible no-look go by Tatum; after which Vacation’s and-1 layup.

All of that, nevertheless, simply set the stage for Vacation to steal the present along with his protection — and transfer Boston to the brink of a return to the league’s championship spherical.

“Jrue is totally different,” Brown stated. “Nothing actually else to say. Jrue is simply totally different.”