Watch CBS News

Celtics looking to close out Pacers in Game 4 and lock down their spot in NBA Finals

Will Celtics close out Pacers on Monday night and advance to the NBA Finals?
Will Celtics close out Pacers on Monday night and advance to the NBA Finals? 07:49

BOSTON -- For the third time this postseason, it's closing time for the Celtics. Boston can complete a sweep of the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and punch its ticket to the NBA Finals with a Game 4 win in Indiana on Monday night.

The Celtics are in this position after a pulling off a thrilling comeback in Game 3 on Saturday night. Boston trailed by 18 points in the second half, but Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and especially Jrue Holiday all stepped up down the stretch to propell the Celtics to a 114-111 victory.

It was the second time the Celtics have displayed their mental toughness this series, joining Jaylen Brown's heroics at the end of regulation in Game 1 to save Boston from dropping the first game of the series on their home floor. Brown's game-tying three set up Tatum's overtime takeover, and the Celtics were off and running from there.

After surviving Indy's best shot in Game 1, the Celtics blew out the Pacers in Game 2. Then they came storming back to win a road game they had no business winning on Saturday night, despite the Pacers shooting 41-for-69 on their two-point attempts. The Celtics' comeback in Game 3 left Indiana stunned and demoralized, and the Pacers are expected to be without star point guard Tyrese Haliburton for a second straight game Monday night.

But the Celtics are well aware that closing out this series out Monday night will be their toughest challenge yet.

"Closeout games are always the hardest. We don't expect them to lay down and quit," Derrick White said Sunday. "You just got to be a little bit better, you got to execute a little bit better, you got to compete a little bit more. They're playing for their season so it's definitely going to be a challenge. 

"Any playoff series, anything can change in one game," added White. "It's going to be a big one."

While no team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, the Celtics don't want to give the Pacers any hope by letting them win Monday and force a Game 5 back in Boston on Wednesday. Win Game 4, and Boston would get 10 days before playing in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against either the Dallas Mavericks or the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Like Boston, Dallas owns a 3-0 edge in the Western Conference Finals.)

And the Celtics know that letting the Pacers win just one game could open the door to a lot of extra basketball. The Celtics were in their position a year ago against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, before ripping off three straight wins to force a Game 7 at TD Garden. (We won't revisit what happened in that one.)

The Celtics leaned some valuable lessons during that playoff run, which they believe will give them the edge on Monday night and going forward.

"I believe these past few years we've had some battles and I feel like our group, we've been through it, we understand it, we've had some grueling, tough series and this one is no different," Celtics center Al Horford said after hitting seven three-pointers in Game 3. "This team, it's a very good team. They're very dangerous, there's a reason they're here, and I know we're up three, but it could easily be very different."

"We're in a great position right now, one win away from the finals. But we know we can't relax for one second," said Tatum. "A year ago, we were down 0-3 and figured out a way to force it to seven, so we're not looking past Monday."

The Celtics are on the brink of their first playoff series sweep since the first-round of the 2022 postseason -- when they sent the Brooklyn Nets packing in four games -- and are on the doorstep of the NBA Finals. Take care of business on Monday night and they'll have plenty of time to get ready for the next biggest series of their collective careers.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.