NBA playoffs: Celtics rally again past Pacers to secure sweep, spot in NBA Finals

For the third time in four games, the Indiana Pacers held a late fourth-quarter lead.

For the third time in four games, the Boston Celtics erased it. Boston rallied from an 89-82 fourth-quarter deficit Monday night to secure a 105-102 win over the Pacers for a second comeback in two games in Indianapolis.

The win secures a 4-0 Eastern Conference finals win for the Celtics and a spot in the NBA Finals. Boston will take on the winner between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves for the NBA championship. The Mavericks hold a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals and have a chance to secure their own series sweep at home Tuesday night.

Boston trailed for most of the fourth quarter before tying the game at 102-102 on a Jaylen Brown floater. Then Derrick White secured the first Celtics lead of the quarter on a 3-pointer with 43.9 seconds remaining.

It proved to be the last bucket of the game and the series as the Celtics stunned the Indiana crowd for a second straight game. Boston vanquished Indiana as the Pacers played a second consecutive game without All-NBA guard Tyrese Haliburton, who sat Games 3 and 4 with a hamstring strain.

The Pacers appeared to be in control and destined to force a Game 5 until the game's final minutes. With the Celtics closing the gap, Pascal Siakam hit a layup in traffic to extend Indiana's lead to 102-98 with 3:32 remaining. It was the last time the Pacers scored.

Over the last 3:32, the Pacers went 0-4 from the field and turned the ball over twice. Andrew Nembhard's last-gasp 3-point attempt to match White's missed the mark with 32.1 seconds remaining. Jayson Tatum secured the rebound for the Celtics, and Indiana never possessed the ball again.

For the Pacers, the conclusion signaled ultimate heartbreak in a series filled with frustration. They led Game 1 in Boston 115-110 in the final two minutes before losing in overtime. They led Saturday's Game 3 at home by 18 points, but blew a nine-point fourth-quarter lead in a 114-11 Celtics win.

Monday's loss was more of the same. Indiana was a possession away from winning any one of those three games. But the Celtics made the plays down the stretch each time to secure the series victory.

Jaylen Brown and the Celtics are NBA Finals bound. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Jaylen Brown and the Celtics are NBA Finals-bound. (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Brown paced the Celtics in another sensational effort while posting 29 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists. He shot 11 of 22 from the field and 4 of 8 from 3-point distance. He averaged 29.8 points per game in the series and hit the clutch Game 1 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime. He earned ECF MVP for his efforts.

Jaylen Brown headshot
Jaylen Brown
SF - BOS - #7
May 20 - May 28 2024

Like much of the postseason, Monday's game wasn't absent officiating controversy. With Indiana leading 98-84 in the game's final 7:30, Pacers guard T.J. McConnell secured an offensive rebound off a missed Nembhard 3-pointer. Brown smacked him in the face and sent McConnell tumbling backward hard to the court.

It wasn't intentional, but it was a textbook flagrant foul with unnecessary and reckless contact to an opponent's head. Officials saw it otherwise.

After officials reviewed the play, referee Zach Zarba announced to a disapproving Indiana crowd that it was ruled a common foul.

"The contact, although unfortunate, does not rise to the level of a flagrant foul penalty one," Zarba said.

Instead of two free throws and possession that would come with a flagrant foul, the Pacers were awarded just possession on the non-shooting foul. McConnell missed a jumper on the ensuing possession, and Jrue Holiday hit a layup on the other end to continue the Celtics rally.

The sequence can't be blamed in Indiana for the Pacers' late breakdown on offense. But it certainly didn't help their cause. Regardless, their season is over, and Boston advances to compete for its first NBA championship since 2008.

The Celtics won Monday night despite being outshot from the floor (46%-44.9%) and 3-point distance (34.5% to 31.8%) and losing the rebounding battle, 47-44. But they shot a higher volume of 3-pointers (14 makes to 10) than Indiana and forced 14 Pacers turnovers. And, again, they were more poised down the stretch.

Tatum joined Brown in leading the Celtics effort with 26 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. In addition to his game-winning 3, White was a force on defense while posting 16 points, four rebounds, four assists, five steals and three blocked shots.

Nembhard led the Pacers for a second consecutive game in Haliburton's absence with 24 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. Siakam posted 19 points and 10 rebounds, while McConnell had another strong game off the bench with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists.

But Indiana's season is over, leaving the Pacers to look back on a successful campaign that ended in frustrating fashion.