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What the Celtics need to do to win Game 2 against the Pacers

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics pulled off an improbable overtime win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and will now look to go up 2-0 on the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night at TD Garden.

Game 1 had all the dramatics you'd want in an NBA playoff game. The Celtics somehow, someway pulled it off despite the Pacers holding a three-point lead and the ball with eight seconds to go. But Jaylen Brown forced a turnover, canned a game-tying three near the end of regulation, and then Jayson Tatum went off in overtime -- or as Brown said, "woke up" -- to lead Boston to a 133-128 victory.

Let's not make it so complicated on Thursday night. Don't get me wrong, Game 1 was an absolute blast and the kind of close, grind-it-out win that many have said the Celtics couldn't pull off. But we could go without the chaos for a second straight game.

At least the Celtics weren't particularly happy with themselves following that emotional victory. They know they really dodged one, and should be down 0-1 in the series.

That makes Game 2 all the more important on Thursday night. Indiana has to be demoralized after handing Game 1 to Boston, but the Pacers also know that they can hang with the Celtics. If they clean up their mistakes and Rick Carlisle remembers how to be a head coach late in games, this could easily be a 1-1 series when it heads to Indiana and could lead to a long, drawn-out series.

A win by Boston in Game 2 could stamp out that hope for the Pacers, but Game 2 has been the team's kryptonite this year. The Celtics lost Game 2 to both the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers, both on the TD Garden floor. They've lost three straight Game 2s at home going back to last year's Eastern Conference Finals.

Here's how the C's can buck that trend Thursday night.

It's time for Jayson Tatum to shine in the fourth quarter

Let's start by pointing out the obvious: Jayson Tatum is a great basketball player. The amount of criticism he receives for not being absolutely perfect is ridiculous. No player in the league is scrutinized more than Jayson Tatum.

The narrative after Game 1 was that Brown saved his bacon and Tatum owed him big time. Because scoring 10 of the team's 16 points in overtime wasn't enough to make up for his rough shooting night.

"What if Brown didn't hit that shot?" they ask. "What if Tatum's turnover in overtime cost the Celtics the game?" they bring up. 

Brown did, and after his turnover that ended with Tyrese Haliburton making three free throws, Tatum took over. He made an excellent driving layup that also got him to the line, and then hit a nail-in-the-coffin three -- the same shot he missed near the end of regulation that would have tied the game at 117-117.

Tatum made amends for his 2-for-7 fourth quarter with a huge overtime. And while there is no denying that he struggled offensively in the final frame, and his three-ball is in rough shape this postseason, he still makes an impact everywhere else. A dozen rebounds and his strong (and always underrated) defense prove that.

Just look at the unreal on/off stats for Tatum this postseason. He leads the NBA at plus-126 this postseason. When he was on the floor Tuesday night, the Celtics were a plus-20. In the 7:28 he sat, the Celtics were a minus-15.

But no matter what he does, Tatum is going to get bashed and taken down. This aggression will not stand. 

How can the most scrutinized player in the league shut all of his doubters up on Thursday night? Go out and have a monster fourth to lead the Celtics to a victory. (We'd also accept a monster game leading up to the fourth quarter that leads to a blowout win.)

We're due for a Tatum takeover, ala Game 6 against the Bucks in 2022 or Game 7 against the 76ers last postseason. One of those on Thursday may assure the Celtics don't see a Game 6 or Game 7 this series.

Celtics need to keep making the Pacers pay for their turnovers

The Pacers turned the ball over 22 times in Game 1, and Haliburton committed two of those at key moments at the end of regulation and in overtime. But despite 22 of their possessions ending with gifts to the Celtics, leading to 32 points for Boston, the Pacers still could have -- nay, should have -- won the game. 

The Celtics need to keep making the Pacers pay for their turnovers, do a better job protecting the ball themselves. Boston's 15 turnovers in Game 1 led to 21 points for Indy.

Haliburton said it was all on him, but it was pressure from the Celtics defense (specifically Jrue Holiday, who was borderline perfect in Game 1) that caused him to commit those two brutal turnovers at key moments. That pressure needs to ramp up even more in Game 2.  

Celtics need to continue to get to the free-throw line

Tatum was just 12-for-26 in Game 1, and just 2-for-8 from three. So some of the criticism was warranted. But what that fails to mention is that he got to the free-throw line a dozen times, and knocked down 10 of his freebies.

We'll gladly take the Tatum that is aggressive and attack the rim, earning trips to the charity stripe, over the one that hoists reckless threes. That means Tatum is taking what the defense is giving him, and will only settle for a few of those questionable heaves.

Brown also got to the line eight times in Game 1, and though he missed three, he knocked down two with under a minute left to pull the Celtics within one point. Yes, Jaylen Brown hit two clutch free throws in the final minute of a playoff game. That is some serious growth.

The Celtics made 30 trips to the free-throw line in Game 1 and connected on 24 of their free throws. The Pacers' style doesn't lead to many freebies, as Indy has 16.4 free throws per game this postseason. 

The Celtics are going to have an edge on the free-throw line every game. They need to continue to take full advantage of that. 

Celtics need to defend the mid-range

The Pacers were the best midrange team in the NBA this season, so it's no surprise that they torched the Celtics inside the three-point line in Game 1. They hit 62.5 percent of their 2-point shots, and really took advantage of Al Horford at the end of the game, hitting six of their nine shots when the veteran was the primary defender in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Joe Mazzulla and his assistants likely spent Wednesday in the lab trying to figure out the best switches that will keep the Pacers from lighting them up with their midrange attack on Thursday night. 

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