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

May 21, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) shoots against the Indiana Pacers.
May 21, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) shoots against the Indiana Pacers. / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
In this story:

When Jayson Tatum couldn't find the mark on an open three that would have tied the game with 36.1 seconds left, and Derrick White followed that up with a missed layup, the Celtics appeared headed to a series-opening defeat on their home floor.

Then came the Pacers' second turnover in the final 30 seconds, a giveaway influenced by Jaylen Brown as he combatted Andrew Nembhard's attempt to get the ball to Pascal Siakam. 

The two-time All-Star made sure his effort wasn't in vain, burying a three from the corner with Siakam crowding him, tying the game at 117 and forcing overtime.

From there, Jayson Tatum rendered a poor finish to regulation that would've drawn significantly more attention than his outstanding play for most of the night had it not been for Brown's heroics irrelevant.

The five-time All-Star nearly outscored Indiana by himself, generating ten points to the visitors' 11. He finished with a game-high 36. The two-time All-NBA First Team selection also grabbed 12 rebounds, matching Siakam for the most in the contest, and swiped three steals, tying several others atop the leaderboard in that category.

Boston also got Jrue Holiday's best performance in green. The now six-time All-Defensive team selection often face-guarded Tyrese Haliburton, limiting him to eight points on eight shots in the final 24 minutes of regulation. The Pacers' star guard went 1/3 with six points and a turnover in overtime.

Holiday also consistently pushed the pace, attacked downhill, and stuffed the stat sheet with 28 points on 10/16 shooting, including 4/8 from beyond the arc. He also went 4/4 at the free-throw line, dished out eight assists, snagged seven rebounds, and recorded three steals.

Brown, whose late-game efforts salvaged the night, finished with 26 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals, and a block.

The numbers registered by Tatum, Brown, and Holiday make the Celtics the first team in NBA playoff history with a trio with at least 25 points and three steals, per NBC Sports Boston's Dick Lipe.

Now for a deep dive into what stood out as Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals unfolded and the Celtics found a way to overcome the visitors relentlessly pushing the pace and paring 56 points in the paint with 13/35 (37.1%) shooting from beyond the arc.

Boston's 133-128 overtime win was a testament to its resiliency and the battle-tested nature of this group. Conversely, the Pacers failed to apply the finishing touches on what seemed poise to be a series-opening victory, then seemed to wilt as overtime progressed.

1. The Celtics threw the first punch to start the Eastern Conference Finals, racing to a 12-0 lead to open Game 1.

That included an emphatic jam by Jaylen Brown for the first two points of the contest, a block by Al Horford, thwarting Pascal Siakam at the rim, and a pair of threes.

It took the Pacers until the 8:35 mark to get on the board.

2. While Indiana's known for relentlessly pushing the pace, the up-tempo approach Boston maintained in the first frame was crucial to its success offensively.

Pushing off makes and misses fueled effective ball movement and quality, in-rhythm looks. A prime example came when Siakam banked in a turnaround jumper from the left block, only for the hosts to get those two points back by quickly getting the ball up the floor, leading to a Jayson Tatum layup.

Maintaining that method resulted in the Celtics assisting on 11/14 field goals in the first quarter and shooting 58.3% from the floor.

Brown led the hosts with ten points, while Tatum chipped in eight and three assists.

3. While they often had success running the Pacers off the three-point line, there were still instances of closeouts that weren't up to par, resulting in the defense collapsing and overall difficulty keeping the visitors from the basket.

Indiana produced 16 points in the paint in the first frame, with each of those occurring in the restricted area. With Obi Toppin coming off the bench to manufacture much of that, coming off the bench to provide 11 points, the most in the period, the Pacers only trailed 34-31 entering the second quarter.

4. With Boston's pace slowing in the second period and the offense too often lacking on and off-ball movement, a stagnant approach propped up the visitors' defense.

The hosts faring 3/11 (27.3%) from beyond the arc in the 12 minutes before halftime fed into Indiana's up-tempo attack. Out-of-control closeouts at the other end of the floor made it that much more difficult to disrupt the Pacers' offense and get them out of rhythm.

While the Celtics' ability to make difficult shots, like a Jaylen Brown long two, fading away while Andrew Nembhard contested his attempt, allowed them to put 30 points on the board despite an approach that's challenging to sustain success with, the visitors looked more comfortable when they had the ball.

The Pacers generated 33 points on 63.6% shooting in the second quarter. That includes making 5/9 threes (55.6%). Myles Turner produced 12 of those points, entering intermission with 18, leading all participants. 

Tyrese Haliburton registered 11 in the first 24 minutes, including burying a three from 35 feet with three seconds left in the first half. That shot tied the game at 64 entering intermission.

5. As for the Celtics, a 34-30 edge in the paint, an 11-4 advantage in points off turnovers, and manufacturing ten second-chance points to Indiana's six helped them play from in front for the entire first half until Haliburton's 35-foot triple.

Brown led Boston with 14 points, Tatum had 11 at the break, and Derrick White had ten on 3/6 shooting.

6. The third quarter featured some of the Celtics' best defense, raising their energy and physicality, which translated to keeping their guests under 30 points after failing to do so in the first two frames.

But even with Boston limiting the Pacers to 3/11 (27.3%) from beyond the arc, Haliburton carving out the sliver of daylight necessary to get off a three before the end-of-period buzzer that found its way through the net, pulled the visitors within one, entering the final 12 minutes trailing 94-93.

7. While no one on Indiana reached double figures, the hosts got 11 points in the period from Tatum, including him driving downhill, not allowing former teammate Aaron Nesmith to knock him off his line, before finishing a layup through contact.

They also got ten points from Jrue Holiday, who consistently pushed the tempo and attacked downhill, including for multiple post-ups.

But six turnovers, which led to nine points for the Pacers, who got 23 from their bench in the first 36 minutes while the hosts' second unit struggled to contribute, chipping in 13 points in that span, acted as an anchor weighing down Boston.

Through the first three quarters, the C's were a +16 in the 29 minutes with Tatum on the floor and -15 in the seven minutes with him on the bench.

8. In a significant swing late in the series opener, after a Derrick White three and forcing a miss by Turner, Tatum lined up an open three that would've put the hosts up by two with 3:28 left, only to see it not find the mark.

Nesmith attacked from the right wing at the other end, finishing a layup through contact from White. He then tacked on the free throw, completing an old-school three-point play. That extended Indiana's advantage to 111-107 with 3:18 remaining.

9. With the Celtics within three, trailing 117-114 with 27.7 seconds on the game clock and the ball in their hands, Derrick White couldn't get a layup to go with Nesmith contesting. That came on the heels of Tatum missing an open look at a three.

It looked like those failed opportunities would propel the Pacers to a 1-0 lead to start the Eastern Conference Finals. However, in a remarkable effort by Brown, he disrupted an in-bounds pass to Pascal Siakam that went out off the latter, giving the hosts life.

Brown then buried a corner three with Siakam crowding him, sending the TD Garden faithful into a frenzy and Game 1 into overtime.

10. After Indiana struck first in the fifth frame, thanks to a Haliburton three, the hosts countered by attacking the basket, starting with Brown muscling his way to two points at the rim. Tatum then gave Boston the lead at the free-throw line on a transition opportunity courtesy of a block by Horford on Andrew Nembhard.

As the lead continued changing hands, a Tatum layup while getting wrapped up by T.J. McConnell produced an old-fashioned three-point play. 

The Celtics followed that up with Jrue Holiday forcing a Tyrese Haliburton turnover and Tatum delivering the knockout blow with a step-back three to put Boston ahead 127-123 with 42.8 seconds left.

11. Game 2 between the Celtics and Pacers is on Thursday night. It will tip off at 8:00 EST at TD Garden.

Further Reading

Aaron Nesmith Left Lasting Impression with Celtics Before Finding a Home with Pacers

Trivializing Celtics' Success in Tatum-Brown Era a Take Not Measured Properly: 'Doing

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

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown Still Shaking Off Criticism While Growing as Leaders

Jrue Holiday Delivers 'Masterclass' in Game 3 Win vs. Cavs

Jayson Tatum Breaks Out of Scoring Slump That Never Defined Him: 'Underappreciated'

Derrick White Discusses Joining Elite Company in Game 1 Win vs. Cavaliers

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


Published |Modified
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.