The Boston Celtics are winning ugly, but they’re winning.
On the strength of their two young guns — Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — along with a ridiculous closing fury from Kyrie Irving, the Celtics held off another workmanlike effort from the Indiana Pacers to win, 104-96, and take a 3-0 lead in their first-round series. Boston will have its shot at a sweep on Sunday.
The Celtics were as inconsistent a team as there was during the regular season, finishing a disappointing fourth place in the Eastern Conference. That set up this opening-round date with the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers. The hope for the Celtics was that they could find their consistency before facing the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 2, but they have found all three meetings with Indiana an uphill battle.
After falling behind by double digits in the first two games of the series, Boston blitzed the Pacers in the opening quarter, taking a 41-28 lead thanks to 4-for-4 shooting from Brown and 8-of-10 shooting from distance as a team.
As was the case in Game 2, though, the Pacers put the clamps on Boston for the remainder of the game. It took another 25 minutes for the Celtics to score 41 more points, and in that time Indiana made it a game. Well, until Irving did this:
Irving has been everything the Celtics could have imagined in the clutch. Despite some shaky shooting through the first three quarters, he followed that ridiculous spinning fadeaway jumper over Domantas Sabonis with an assist on an Al Horford 3-pointer that gave Boston a seven-point lead with four minutes to play. His ability to penetrate was magnetic, drawing defenders to him and creating space for a closing lineup that also featured Tatum, Brown and Gordon Hayward — the quintet that was supposed to make the Celtics one of the league’s most dynamic teams.
There was some question as to whether the Celtics would flip the proverbial switch in the playoffs, and while they haven’t looked flawless, they’ve been good enough to be the first team to take a 3-0 lead in any series this year. Momentum is building.
It doesn’t hurt that Brown and Tatum combined for 41 points on 16-of-25 shooting. (Brown was 8-of-9 from the field and 4-of-5 from distance.) If those two are playing at that level, the Celtics could be scary, especially with Irving in the closer’s role.
Irving added 19 points and 10 assists in the win, and didn’t play well. Neither did Gordon Hayward, who had six points on seven shots. There is plenty of room for improvement, but Boston is becoming a real threat. The defense has been the NBA’s best in the playoffs, holding Indy below 100 points in a third straight game.
The Celtics have yet to see everyone running on all cylinders, but contributions from at least two supporting actors before Irving steals the show has been a recipe for success against an inferior opponent. That won’t be enough against top-seeded Milwaukee, but Boston has at least one more game to cook up some consistency.
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