Celtics Remaining Perfect in Closeout Games More Important vs. Pacers

May 25, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) shoots the ball against Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) during the third quarter of game three of the eastern conference finals in the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) shoots the ball against Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) during the third quarter of game three of the eastern conference finals in the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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After last season's turbulent playoff run, featuring a Game 5 home loss vs. a Hawks team missing Dejonte Murray, dropping the series opener against the Sixers while Joel Embiid watched from the sidelines, and falling behind 3-0 to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics are yet to lose a closeout game this postseason.

After Boston vanquished Miami, 118-84, in Game 5 at TD Garden to finish their first-round series, Jayson Tatum voiced, "We should be learning from our mistakes and learning from things that we could have done better and applying it to the next season, which we are doing this year. Because we're trying to have a different outcome from what we had last year."

The Celtics then ended the Cavaliers' campaign in five games, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third straight year and the sixth time in eight tries.

"It's my 15th season, so to go to it twice, I know that JT and JB have been here too many times, but this is my second time, so I'm here, and I'm appreciative, and I'm gonna do what I can to get through this series," expressed Jrue Holiday after his heroics completed a 13-2 rally to steal Game 3 and stake Boston to a 3-0 series lead over the Pacers. 

Now, if the Celtics can sweep Indiana and punch their ticket to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years, the rewards of an efficient playoff run won't change, but one, in particular, will carry more weight than in the first two rounds: rest.

Despite initial optimism about Kristaps Porzingis returning for Game 4 in Indiana, the visitors already declared him inactive for Monday's matchup. A win would buy him an extra week of rehab before potentially rejoining the lineup with the Larry O'Brien Trophy on the line.

While no substitute will have him in game shape should he return, having more time in controlled conditions may still be what's best for the seven-foot-three center as he recovers from the soleus strain in his right calf that has sidelined him since Apr. 29, especially when considering that he did not get the green light to play in Game 4 against the Pacers.

It's not just Porzingis who would benefit from the extended break. While there's no sign of Al Horford slowing down, he turns 38 on June 3. Asked to shoulder a heavier workload, he's logging 29.7 minutes per contest in the postseason.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

He averaged 31.6 minutes in the second round against the Cavaliers, a figure that has raised to 33.1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. As well as he's playing, including becoming the oldest player to make at least seven threes in a playoff game, doing so in Saturday's 114-111 win, a week to recharge before the Finals would go a long way to ensuring the 16-year veteran remains at his best, especially if Porzingis doesn't return to lighten Horford's workload.

Between Jrue Holiday fighting through an illness and the wear and tear that accumulates during a campaign that started seven months ago, that rest, beneficial to the collective, could prove a difference-maker against, most likely, a Mavericks team that is also leading their series 3-0 and on the verge of affording themselves that same advantage. 

Boston's rightfully touted its maturation throughout this playoff run. As Jaylen Brown put it: "We're graduating; we haven't graduated yet." 

Completing the challenge of ending another team's season and eliminating the Pacers on their home floor on Monday is a significant step toward earning a diploma that comes in the form of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

Further Reading

From Uncertain to Game 3 Hero, Jrue Holiday Propels Celtics to Finals Precipice

Celtics' Championship Mettle Has Them on Verge of NBA Finals

Jaylen Brown Reacts to Not Making an All-NBA Team: 'Embrace It'

Celtics Grab Elusive Game 2 Win vs. Pacers, Now Halfway to NBA Finals

Jrue Holiday Starts Eastern Conference Finals with Best Game as a Celtic

Jaylen Brown's Heroics Propel Celtics to 1-0 Lead in Conference Finals

Past Hardships Brought Out Best in Al Horford in Career Night: 'You Saw His Gift'

Kristaps Porzingis Discusses Target Date to Rejoin Celtics' Playoff Run: 'Doing Everything I Can'


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Bobby Krivitsky

BOBBY KRIVITSKY

Bobby Krivitsky's experiences include covering the NBA as a credentialed reporter for Basketball Insiders. He's also a national sports talk host for SportsMap Radio, a network airing on 96 radio stations throughout the country. Additionally, he was a major-market host, update anchor, and producer for IMG Audio, and he worked for Bleacher Report as an NFL and NBA columnist.