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Celtics rally late again to close out Pacers for 4-0 sweep in Eastern Conference finals

Boston returns to NBA Finals for second time in three years

By MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
Published: May 27, 2024, 8:55pm

INDIANAPOLIS — Derrick White stood stoically at midcourt as his teammates celebrated Monday night.

He saw Jayson Tatum toss the ball high into the air, Al Horford run toward the coaching staff and looking for his son long before Jaylen Brown hoisted the Eastern Conference finals MVP trophy. Even coach Joe Mazzulla shared the moment with his wife.

White, meanwhile, seemed ready to get back to work after making the tie-breaking 3-pointer with 43 seconds left, giving the Boston Celtics a 105-102 victory and their second trip in three years to the NBA Finals with a 4-0 sweep over the Indiana Pacers.

“Great shot. We work on that all the time, two-on-one reads,” Brown said after scoring 29 points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking a key shot with 65 seconds left to preserve the lead. “Before that, I told D White just to stay ready and that was a big shot, a big shot to send us to the finals.”

White scored just 16 points and made just 1 of 8 3s before making the decisive shot from the corner. Until then, he seemed to have taken a back seat to Brown, Tatum, who had 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, Jrue Holiday and even the 37-year-old Horford.

But when the Celtics needed a basket to chase the 18th NBA title in franchise history, the poised White delivered with a shot that will be remembered forever in Boston. The Celtics will now face either Dallas or Minnesota, which meet Tuesday in Game 4.

The Mavericks have a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals.

“We feel confident, we feel comfortable in any type of game, and we feel we’ve got answers for anything at us,” White said. “We’ve just got to find the right ones.”

Boston’s victory came exactly one year after White’s tip-in rallied from the Celtics from a 3-0 deficit to tie the conference finals against Miami — only to lose Game 7 at home. This year, they’ve won seven straight playoff games, are 6-0 on the road and are 3-0 in elimination games.

It certainly wasn’t easy against the Pacers, who were a perfect 6-0 on their home court before ending the season with two straight losses at a sold out Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Indiana lost three times in the series despite holding leads or being tied in the final minute. It happened again Monday as Boston pitched a shutout for the final 3 1/2 minutes.

Coach Rick Carlisle promised his team would fight hard to extend its season — and, as usual, this young roster didn’t disappoint.

Tempers flared briefly in the third when Pacers center Myles Turner knocked guard White to the ground, Brown, who was named the MVP of the series, grabbed Turner’s shoulder and Turner shoved Brown away. Turner was called for an offensive foul as he and Brown each drew technical fouls.

There was another scary moment when Brown’s hand hit T.J. McConnell in the face, sending him crashing to the ground. The refs ruled it was a common foul following a replay review. But the two frays didn’t change the back-and-forth tenor of this game — or this series — and the Pacers never backed down.

“Our guys embraced it,” Carlisle said of his team’s effort without Haliburton and throughout the playoffs. “Give them (the Celtics) credit for the stuff they pulled off at the end of the last two games. They simply made more plays.”

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Andrew Nembhard had 24 points, 10 assists and six rebounds but missed a potentially tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds and the Pacers never got the ball again. Pascal Siakam added 19 points and 10 rebounds for Indiana while T.J. McConnell had 15 points and Aaron Nesmith had 14.

But the Celtics dominated late again.

They pulled within 102-100 on Tatum’s dunk with 3:12 to go, tied the score with 2:40 left on Brown’s mid-range jumper and then took the lead on White’s 3.

In between, Boston forced two turnovers and Brown blocked Nembhard’s short at the rim with 1:05 left. Indiana had one more chance when Tatum missed a 3 with 8 seconds left, but Jrue Holiday chased down the rebound and ran out the clock before Indiana could foul.

“They fought us hard to the wire, they have pride as a team. They didn’t want to give up,” a relieved Tatum said. “We missed bunnies all night. I knew we were due for one. That was a big time shot.”

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