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Celtics storm back with late run in Game 3, take 3-0 lead over Pacers in Eastern Conference Finals

BOSTON -- It looked like the Celtics were heading for a Game 3 loss to a Pacers team that did not have Tyrese Haliburton on Saturday night. But after falling behind by 18 points in the second half, Boston ramped up its defense and started hitting some clutch shots, and the Celtics are now one win away from the NBA Finals.

Much like Game 1 of the series, the Celtics had no business winning Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. But Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Jrue Holiday all made clutch shots down the stretch, and the Celtics came storming back to stun the Pacers, 114-111, on their home court.

It's the first home loss for the Pacers this postseason. The Celtics, meanwhile, improved to 5-0 on the road in the playoffs, and now own a commanding 3-0 lead over Indiana.

Boston closed the game on a 13-2 run, fueled by three-pointers from Tatum and Horford and a three-point play by Holiday. The C's starting point guard had been questionable for most of the day Saturday with an illness, but he went out and scored 14 points, pulled down nine rebounds, and came up with three steals for Boston. Holiday was money down the stretch, scoring the go-ahead bucket (and free throw) with 38 seconds left. He then came up huge on the defensive end, making a game-sealing steal on Andrew Nembhard with three seconds left (and hitting his free throws) to give Boston its improbable victory.

"That was an unbelievable play," Horford said of Holiday's game-sealing steal. "A guy coming at him at full speed, having the instincts to do that. He's just a winner. Ultimately, that's what it comes down to. He's just a winner."  

Tatum broke out of his shooting slump, scoring 36 points off 12-for-23 shooting overall and 5-for-10 from downtown. He scored seven points at the free-throw line off 11 attempts, and flirted with a triple-double with 10 rebounds and eight assists. Tatum also didn't turn the ball over during his 44 minutes of action.

Horford was magnificent after a rough Game 2, scoring 23 points off 8-for-12 shooting, including seven makes from deep. 

It was a wild game from the jump, with the Celtics racing out to an early lead after making their first six shots. Boston led by nine during the quarter, as Tatum scored 15 of his points during the opening frame. 

Boston held a 30-23 lead with three minutes to go in the first, but things went downhill from there when their defense started to lose guys in the paint. The Pacers realized they could hit everything inside, which completely flipped the game in their favor. Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner (both of whom finished with 22 points) punished Boston in the paint and Indiana went on a 25-10 run to take control.

With Haliburton out with a hamstring injury, Nembhard started at point guard and did some very Haliburton-like things. He capped off his 21-point first half with a deep three with only a few seconds on the clock (much like Haliburton did in Game 1 in Boston) to push Indiana's lead to 69-57 at the break.

The Pacers shot 68 percent in the second quarter, going 15-for-22, and 64 percent in the first half with 20 assists on 28 made baskets. Indiana scored 42 points in the paint in the first half, adding 10 more at the free-throw line. (The Pacers finished at 50.5 percent for the game after shooting just 38 percent in the fourth quarter.)

The Pacers pushed their lead to 18 midway through the third quarter, but then the Celtics picked things up on defense. They blocked a shot on four straight Indiana possessions at one point and were able to whittle the Pacers' lead down to seven. Boston trailed by nine after three quarters.

That Indiana lead was down to five points early in the fourth when Derrick White put in his own miss, making it a 90-85 game. A few possessions later, Horford drained his then-sixth three of the game to make it a 93-90 game. 

But T.J. McConnell (23 points) put in another one of his midrange jumpers, and Nembhart followed with a driving layup after Jaylen Brown missed a three for Boston, pushing the Indiana lead back up to seven. 

An angry dunk from Brown (watch it, because it is glorious) cut it to a 101-97 game, but Nembhard answered with a three, and McConnell hit a corner three of his own after a Horford bucket to push Indy's lead to 107-99 with just over three minutes to play. 

But the Celtics didn't quit, and came back thanks to their three-ball and some seriously clutch defense.

Boston got within three again when Tatum drained a three with 1:41 to play, and then cut it to two when Horford hit his seventh three in the corner (off a slick, no-look behind-the-back feed from Tatum) with just over a minute to play. Holiday put them on top with three the hard way, getting fouled on his driving layup (and hitting the free throw) with 38.9 left to put the Celtics on top 112-11. 

Then Holiday clamed down on defense, picking Nembhard 's pocket to seal the comeback win for Boston. Nembhard led the way for Indiana with 32 points, but it wasn't enough for the Pacers in the end. 

The Celtics showed poise down the stretch and displayed the clutch DNA it takes to win in the playoffs. The Pacers have now played the Celtics tough in two of the first three games of the series, and ended up losing both of them. 

The Celtics will look to complete the sweep and punch their ticket to the NBA Finals with a Game 4 win Monday night in Indiana.

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