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Celtics-Pacers takeaways: Tatum leads thrilling comeback win in Game 3

The Boston Celtics are one win away from the NBA Finals after a thrilling comeback victory over the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

After going up nine points early on, Boston struggled defensively and found itself down 18 during a woeful second quarter. Indiana shot a blistering 63.6 percent from the floor in the first half, including 69.4 percent on 2-pointers.

The second half was a different story. The C’s held the Pacers to 18-of-47 (38.3 percent) shooting in the second half and chipped away at their deficit. They finally regained the lead late in the fourth quarter, and Jrue Holiday preserved it with a clutch steal in the game’s final seconds:

That play sealed a 114-111 victory to give Boston a commanding 3-0 series lead.

The Celtics remain undefeated on the road (5-0) in the 2024 playoffs. This was the Pacers’ first loss on their home floor this postseason (7-1).

Jayson Tatum had a game-high 36 points for Boston. All five C’s starters scored in double figures, including Jaylen Brown (24 points) and Al Horford (23 points).

Andrew Nembhard filled in for injured star Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton and dropped a team-high 32 points in a losing effort. Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner added 22 each.

The Celtics will look to complete the sweep and advance to the NBA Finals on Monday. Tip-off for Game 4 is set for 8 p.m. ET in Indiana, and coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live right here on NBC Sports Boston.

Here are three takeaways from Boston’s Game 3 win.

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Huge bounce-back night for Jayson Tatum

Tatum’s critics have been loud throughout this postseason run, but they were silenced Saturday night.

The five-time All-Star was the best player on the floor in Game 3. He wasted little time making his presence felt, dropping 15 points in the first quarter — the second-most in a quarter for his playoff career, following his 16-point game in Game 4 vs. Cleveland. He finished the first half with 20 points on an efficient 8-of-14 shooting.

Tatum kept his foot on the gas in the second half, finishing with 36 points including this clutch 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter:

His stellar stat line — 36 points (12-23 FG, 5-10 3-PT), 10 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks, one steal, and no turnovers — was historic. He now has five career playoff games with at least 35 points and 10 rebounds, putting him second in Celtics history behind the legendary Larry Bird (10).

Tatum also became the first player in NBA history to notch 36 points, 10 boards, eight assists and five 3-point makes with no turnovers, per StatMuse.

Al Horford shoots lights-out

As great as Tatum was, the Celtics don’t win Game 3 without Horford.

While Derrick White and Jrue Holiday struggled offensively, the veteran big man stepped up and had one of his outstanding nights from beyond the arc. He was a ridiculous 7-for-12 from deep and ended with 23 points in 34 minutes.

Horford’s biggest 3 of the game came late in the fourth quarter. His shot cut the deficit to two points with just over a minute to go:

Horford also had five rebounds, three blocks, and a steal. The 37-year-old is the oldest player in NBA history to make seven 3-pointers in a playoff game.

Tale of two halves for C’s defense

The Celtics were without two of their top frontcourt options in Game 3 — Kristaps Porzingis (calf) and Luke Kornet (wrist) — and it showed throughout the first half.

Indiana was relentless in the paint against Horford and the rest of Boston’s undersized lineup. All 31 of the home team’s points in the first quarter came from either the paint or the free-throw line.

That trend continued in the second quarter. The Pacers finished the first half 21-of-30 from the paint for 42 points — just two shy of the NBA playoff-high set by Dallas in Game 1 vs. Minnesota.

Then, a switch flipped.

Indiana shot just 38.3 percent from the floor in the second half, putting up only 42 points over the final two frames after having 69 in the first half.

The Celtics’ defense locked in late, and Holiday’s late steal perfectly topped off the turnaround on that end of the floor. Because of that, Boston will have a chance to punch its ticket to the Finals on Monday night.

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