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Celtics hang on, escape with overtime win over Pacers in Game 1 of Eastern Conference Finals

BOSTON -- The Celtics probably should have lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. But Jaylen Brown had other plans.

The Celtics couldn't buy a basket in the final minutes of regulation and nearly let the Pacers steal Game 1 at TD Garden. But after forcing a turnover on an Indiana inbounds, Brown hit a corner three over Pascal Siakam with 5.9 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 117-117. Tyrese Haliburton had been hitting ridiculous threes all night, but his game-winning bid didn't fall as the buzzer sounded and an extra five minutes was needed to decide Game 1. 

Jayson Tatum took over in the final minutes of that extra time, scoring 10 of his game-high 36 points over the final 2:27, and the Celtics escaped with a 133-128 victory. Tatum's driving layup and free-throw that followed gave Boston a 124-123 with 1:12 to go, and then he canned a straight-away three (after Jrue Holiday forced a massive turnover by Haliburton) with 42.8 seconds left to put the Celtics on top by four.

Brown bullied the ball away from Siakam on the other end, and Derrick White (15 points, 9 assists) put in a layup to essentially seal the game for Boston despite Indy hitting some clutch free throws in the final seconds.

The Celtics can exhale after outlasting the Pacers in Game 1. But they will have to be much better in Game 2 on Thursday night. The C's have lost three straight Game 2s going back to last year's Eastern Conference Finals.

Joe Mazzulla will have plenty to say about his team's cold streaks and lack of focus at times. But a playoff win is a playoff win, and Boston now owns a 1-0 lead over the Pacers. That's really all that matters at the end of the day.

The Celtics had everything going their way to start the game. Mazzulla won a challenge 35 seconds in -- the quickest challenge in NBA postseason history -- and Boston raced out to a 12-0 lead. Brown scored 10 of his 26 points in the opening frame, but the Pacers chipped away and had the Celtics lead down to 34-31 at the end of the quarter thanks to 11 points from Obi Toppin off the bench.

Boston built its lead back up to 10 four minutes into the second quarter, but then Myles Turner caught fire for Indiana. The big man was hitting threes, throwing down dunks, and dishing out assists, scoring 12 points in the frame to go with two dimes and two rebounds. Turner finished with 23 points on the night.

Haliburton also got hot at the end of the half, draining a ridiculous three from the Celtics logo in the closing seconds to tie the game at 64-64. 

Haliburton (25 points, 10 assists) came out of the locker room and scored the first five points of the second half to give the Pacers their first lead of the game. But the Celtics responded with a 7-0 run off a Horford three and layups by Tatum and Brown to take the lead right back. 

Boston went on a 13-0 run later in the frame sparked by some solid defense and Tatum getting into a groove on offense. He hit his first three of the game midway through the third quarter to put the Celtics on top 83-75, and then got three the hard way when he was fouled on a driving layup, giving the Celtics an 87-75 edge.

But the Pacers responded again, ripping off a quick 9-0 run with Tatum on the bench. Haliburton hit another absurd three at the buzzer, banking it in over Brown to cut Boston's lead to 94-93 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Celtics went cold after Holiday (28 points, 8 assists) tipped in his own miss to give them a 104-101 lead with 7:29 in the game, going over three minutes without any points. Indiana went on a 7-0 run thanks to Siakam, who locked down on the defensive end and turned it into points for the Pacers. He snatched a bad pass by Brown out of the air, and then took a feed from Haliburton for a jam to put Indy on top 108-104 with 4:34 to play.

A White three ended that drought for Boston, but the Pacers continued to pour it on. Aaron Nesmith answered with a hoop-and-the-harm at the other end, and Siakam continued to kill the Celtics with his midrange game. 

White came up with a huge defensive rebound with the Pacers on top 115-112 with 1:12 left, but a trailing Haliburton blocked his three-point bid. After Brown hit a pair of free throws for Boston, Andrew Nembhard hit a jumper with 42 seconds left to build Indiana's lead back up to three. Tatum missed a three-pointer with 45 seconds left that would have tied the game, and when the Celtics got the ball back with 27.7 seconds on the clock, White missed a bunny and Tatum back-rimmed a fadeaway. 

The game felt over that point and a loss inevitable for the Celtics. But Boston got the ball back one final time when Brown glued himself to Siakam and forced Nembhard's inbound pass to hit off the Indy forward's hands and out of bounds with 8.5 seconds left. That set up Brown's game-tying triple, which he hit with Siakam in front of him.

It was a big-time shot by a big-time player. Brown gave the Celtics an opportunity, and took full advantage of it himself.

The Celtics have been criticized for their inability to win close contests, as well as for their issues at closing out quarters and games. It looked like they were going to do all three at the end of Game 1, but stole a win back from the Pacers thanks to Brown's massive make at the end of regulation.

Now get some rest. It's probably not going to get any easier against this hard-nosed Pacers team.

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