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What went right and wrong for Boston Celtics in Game 1 win over Indiana Pacers

BOSTON -- You didn't expect the Eastern Conference Finals to be a cakewalk for the Boston Celtics, did you? Despite being massive favorites to win the series, the Celtics nearly let the Pacers steal Game 1 at TD Garden on Tuesday night.

Until Jaylen Brown stole it right back, sinking a game-tying corner three with 5.9 seconds left in regulation. Then Jayson Tatum took over in overtime, while Jrue Holiday continued to have his best game in a Celtics uniform.

Who says these Celtics aren't battle tested?

It was frustrating that it even came to that, but we've come to expect that from the Celtics. They went ice cold for a three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter and seemed destined start the Conference Finals with a massive disappointment for a second straight postseason. 

The Celtics didn't play in many close games during the regular season and only one of their previous 10 playoff games was decided by single digits, so questions about their championship mettle have been prevalent since the end of their second-round win over the Cavaliers. The Celtics nearly gave those doubters a lot of fresh ammo on Tuesday night.

Instead, they won a game they really should have lost. It took a lot of guts at the end, a lot of big plays, and a whole lot of luck.

They're lucky that the Pacers didn't call a timeout to advance the ball before Brown forced a turnover. They're lucky the Pacers didn't foul Brown (who has struggled at the line this postseason) before he put up his game-tying three. They're lucky the Pacers coughed up their chance to put them on the ropes in this series.

But in the playoffs, it's better to be lucky than to be losers. Now the Celtics have a signature moment of this postseason, and a chance to go up 2-0 on Thursday night. 

What went right for the Celtics in Game 1

Tatum and Brown (mostly) played like stars

Both had their frustrating moments, whether it was an untimely turnover or forced shots. They were both pretty cold from downtown, with Tatum going 2-for-8 and Brown just 1-for-4 from deep. 

But they were stars when the Celtics needed them to be stars. All Indiana had to do was inbound the ball to win at the end of regulation, but Brown velcro'd himself to Pascal Siakam and forced a Pacers turnover, setting up his game-saving three and the biggest made bucket of his career. He had another big defensive play with 37 seconds left in overtime, stealing the ball from Siakam for his third swipe of the night.

As Brown said after the game, Tatum "woke up" in overtime and scored 10 points to close the game. He hit a big three of his own (after missing one near the end of regulation) with 42.8 seconds left to essentially break Indy's back.

Tatum led all scorers with 36 points to go with a dozen rebounds. Brown finished with 26 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. They weren't perfect, but they stepped up big when they had to.

Jrue Holiday was a boss

This game was the exact reason every contender dreamt of adding Holiday over the summer. The veteran was as cool as a cucumber as havoc played out on the court, scoring 20 of his 28 points after halftime. Fresh off his All-Defensive second team nod  efearlier in the afternoon, Holiday made a number of huge defensive plays in Game 1. In overtime, he bodied Haliburton on an in-bounds play and forced him to lose the ball out of bounds, setting up the possession that ended with Tatum's crushing three.

In addition to those 28 points, Holiday added eight assists, seven rebounds, and three steals to his ledger. He played 48 minutes on Tuesday, and was awesome for all of them. Simply awesome. 

The Celtics got to the free-throw line

The Celtics did a great job waiting out Indiana's defense and drawing fouls. Boston got to the line 30 times in Game 1, scoring 24 points at the charity stripe.

Tatum was 10-for-12 at the line, matching his postseason-high for trips to the free-throw line. Brown worked his way into eight freebies on the night, but hit only five of them.

If the Pacers are going to let the Celtics attack the rim and send them to the line, Boston should keep taking advantage of it.

They found a way

Was it pretty? No, absolutely not. But to win a title, you have to win ugly at times. A lot of people questioned if the Celtics could win ugly heading into this series, and if they had what it took to win close games.

Despite putting themselves in a precarious position at the end of regulation, they found a way to rise from the dead and win Game 1. In the end, that should give the players a little more confidence, and make us feel a little bit better about the team.

What went wrong for the Celtics in Game 1

Going cold in the fourth quarter

After Holiday gave the Celtics a 104-101 lead by tipping in his own miss with with 7:29 left, the Celtics went over three minutes without points. Boston went 0-for-4 from the floor with two Brown turnovers before White ended the drought with a three at the 4:14 mark. 

The Celtics had two offensive rebounds over that stretch, and missed both second-chance looks. Usually going that cold at that point in the game would sink a team. The Celtics were lucky they were able to overcome that stretch.

Finishing quarters

On a number of occasions it felt like the Celtics were one make or one stop away from really blowing the game open. But each time that opportunity surfaced, they let Indiana get right back into the contest.

After going up 29-20 near the end of the first quarter, the Celtics let the Pacers score six straight points. The two teams traded buckets before Obi Toppin ended the frame with a layup, and Boston led by just four points going into the second quarter.

The Celtics were up by eight points with less than five minutes left in the second quarter, but went into the locker room with the game tied, 64-64. They held a 13-point lead with 4:15 to go in the third quarter, but then let the Pacers go on a 16-4 run and held just a one-point lead going into the fourth. We've already touched on their cold spell in the fourth quarter.

They even tried to blow it at one point in overtime, when a bad pass by Tatum was picked off by Haliburton, followed by White fouling the Pacers star while he shot a three. His three freebies gave Indiana a 123-121 edge with 1:48 left, but that was the last time the Pacers held a lead.

The Celtics just got too comfortable after building a lead and put things on cruise control. They should know better than that against a team like the Pacers that can put points up in a hurry. Hopefully Tuesday night was the only reminder they'll need.

The Boston bench had a rough night

Payton Pritchard provided a spark in the first quarter and had eight points off the bench, but was a minus-15 over his 23 minutes. Luke Kornet looked lost on defense for large stretches, and the Pacers attacked him at will. Sam Hauser played only nine minutes, but he missed both of his shots, turned the ball over, was whistled for a foul, and was a minus-8.

The Celtics got just 13 points from their bench in Game 1. Toppin scored 15 all by himself off the Indy bench, while T.J. McConnell put in 16 points off 6-for-11 shooting.

Pritchard will get more chances to hit shots, but Joe Mazzulla may have to look elsewhere on the bench for some much-needed production from his second unit. If Xavier Tillman is available on Thursday night, look for him to get some more run over Kornet. 

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