Jaylen Brown’s Motivation, Tyrese Haliburton’s Availability Dictate Eastern Conference Finals Game 2

Al Horford and Oshae Brissett also played crucial roles for the Celtics, plus other observations from Game 2.
Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown reacts after a play against the Indiana Pacers in the second half during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown reacts after a play against the Indiana Pacers in the second half during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

News, notes and observations after the Boston Celtics’ 126–110 win over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday, giving Boston a 2–0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. 

• Jaylen Brown has three All-Star appearances and a $300 million contract, but it would be ridiculous to think he didn’t use this week’s All-NBA teams announcement as motivation for Game 2. Brown, who wasn’t named to any of the three All-NBA teams, dropped 40 points on Indiana on 14-for-27 shooting. He was 4 for 10 from three-point range and was a bulldozer in the paint, getting to the free throw line 11 times. 

“Just being aggressive, wanting to get out in transition and run,” Brown said. “But I wanted to attack their smaller guards, put pressure on them, get to the basket.” 

After initially shrugging off the suggestion the All-NBA slight offered extra motivation—“We’re two [wins] from the Finals,” Brown said. “I don’t got the time to give a f---.”—Brown admitted to being aware of how his accomplishments can get glossed over.

“I mean, I watch guys get praised and anointed who I feel like [are] half as talented as me on either side of the ball,” Brown said. “But at this point in my life, I just embrace it. It comes with being who I am and what I stand for and I ain’t really changing that. So I just come out and I’m grateful to step out on the floor each and every night and put my best foot forward. I get better every single year. And whether people appreciate it or not, it is what it is.” 

• Anyone else think it was strange to see Rick Carlisle wave the white flag so early? The Pacers have been resilient this postseason, including this series, including this game, with Indy whittling down double-digit leads in the second and third quarters. Yet with nine minutes to play and the Pacers down 17—striking distance by NBA standards—the only starter on the floor was Andrew Nembhard. Granted, Tyrese Haliburton was injured, but Aaron Nesmith and Myles Turner didn’t play a minute in the fourth quarter while Pascal Siakam played three. Even the Celtics seemed surprised by the decision. 

“Definitely was a little weird,” Brown said.  

Carlisle’s explanation for it made even less sense. He said he wanted fresh legs in the game and wanted to give players who had not had much postseason run (Doug McDermott and Jalen Smith) a chance to play. It’s unlikely Indiana would have come back but to surrender that early in a playoff game was bizarre. 

• After getting outscored 30–13 in bench points in Game 1, the Celtics needed a lift from their second unit and got one in Oshae Brissett. Pressed into service when Luke Kornet exited with a left wrist injury, Brissett’s stat line didn’t stand out—two points, three rebounds—but his defense was solid and his energy was infectious. He finished +18 in 12 minutes—tied with Brown for the team high—and allowed Boston to play at a faster pace. 

“He plays with such a high level of intensity and energy,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “It’s big for us.”

Brissett and Turner attempt to get a rebound during Game 2.
Brissett and Turner attempt to get a rebound during Game 2. / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Said Jayson Tatum, “We see the stay-ready group guys work and show up for us every single day. So I love when they’re able to get their number called and get an opportunity to help us win the game.”

Playing his first meaningful minutes this postseason, Brissett made a case to play more. Kornet has been part of the Celtics’ rotation all season but he got cooked by Turner in Game 1, and even if he can go in Game 3—Mazzulla offered no update after the game—Boston would be better served going smaller and giving the non–Al Horford minutes to Brissett.

“I thought it went well,” Mazzulla said. “I like the speed, I like the athleticism, I like the spacing that we have. It presents strengths and some weaknesses that we have to be ready for, but I think the open-mindedness throughout the year to play different ways kind of prepares us for situations like this.”

• Speaking of Horford, what the soon-to-be 38-year-old is doing is remarkable. After scoring 15 points in 40 minutes in Game 1, Horford chipped in a tidy six-point, 10-rebound, two-steal effort in 25 minutes in Game 2. With Kristaps Porziņģis out, Horford is Boston’s only reliable big man, and he has been exactly that, spacing the floor on the offensive end and providing physical, sturdy defense on the other. Horford, who will turn 38 before the NBA Finals, looks like he can easily play until he is 40. 

• Quiz: There are only four players from the 2007 NBA draft still active. Horford is one of them. Name the other two. Answer at the end.

• Game 5 is penciled in for Wednesday in Boston, but the Pacers will have trouble extending it if Haliburton can’t go in the two games in Indiana. Haliburton left Thursday’s game in the third quarter with left leg soreness, which Carlisle later clarified to mean his hamstring, the same hamstring that cost Haliburton 10 games in January. Haliburton also spent part of halftime in Boston’s examination room with a muscle strain in his chest. 

After the game, Carlisle was noncommittal about Haliburton’s availability for Game 3. 

“We’ll find out,” Carlisle said. “We’ll probably—we will know more tomorrow and then probably even more Saturday.”

Haliburton left Game 2 in the second half with a hamstring injury.
Haliburton left Game 2 in the second half with a hamstring injury. / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

• Turnovers are costing Indiana. After coughing the ball up 22 times in Game 1, the Pacers turned it over 16 times in Game 2, losing the turnover battle for the second straight game. Indiana’s offense was decent; the Pacers shot 52.4% from the floor and 38% from three, but they gave up 54 points in the paint and even were outrebounded, 40–37. 

• Carlisle, in addition to his duties in Indiana, doubles as the president of the NBA Coaches Association, so it was no surprise to hear him weigh in on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ decision to fire J.B. Bickerstaff

“I thought J.B. Bickerstaff did an amazing job,” Carlisle said. “That was a complete culture makeover there. He was inventive. They started playing big 4½ years ago. A lot of people were going, ‘Huh? How is this ever going to work?’

“In our profession, no one likes it, but teams and ownership can fire who they want to, so our business has to be a very resilient one. He’s been through a lot in his career. He’s grown so much as a coach. J.B. will be fine. He’ll certainly be a head coach again.”

There were certainly issues in Cleveland, but in four-plus years, Bickerstaff cleaned up the John Beilein mess, strung together three straight winning seasons (including a 48–34 record in this last one) and led the Cavs into the second round of the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James skipped town. Bickerstaff’s firing comes on the heels of Adrian Griffin, Frank Vogel and Darvin Ham getting the boot after short stints with their teams. Why bother hiring a coach if you have no intention of backing him? 

• Derrick White and British singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran had a lengthy conversation before the game and I’d give anything to know what they were talking about. 

• Two of the reported finalists for the Los Angeles Lakers’ head-coaching job were in TD Garden on Thursday with Sam Cassell in his usual spot on the Celtics bench and JJ Redick on the other side of the floor working the broadcast for ESPN. L.A. has not tipped its hand yet, but there is a growing belief among people I’ve talked to that Redick is the clear front-runner. Cassell, a former NBA champion who has put together an excellent coaching résumé, could also emerge as a candidate in Cleveland. 

• Quiz answer: Kevin Durant, Mike Conley Jr. and Jeff Green. 

Published |Modified
Chris Mannix


Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated Sports Illustrated senior writer Chris Mannix has boxed with Juan Manuel Marquez, played guard in the NBA's D-League and even tried his hand at bull riding at the Sankey Rodeo School in Martin, Tenn. The latter assignment left him with a bunch of bruises and a fractured collarbone. "I liked all the first-person experiences, but fighting Juan was my favorite assignment for SI," says Mannix. "It was a tremendous experience that required brutal training and introduced me to a fear I never knew I had." Mannix has covered the NBA since he arrived at SI in 2003. He currently writes columns and profiles in the magazine and for SI.com and also serves as SI's NBA draft expert. Among the NBA stars he has profiled: Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook and Andrei Kirilenko. As a teenager Mannix was a locker room attendant with the Boston Celtics for eight seasons (1995-2003) and covered high school sports for the Boston Globe. "Working for the Celtics was like attending a different fantasy camp every game. I spent pregames D'ing up the likes of Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen and yes, Michael Jordan. Last time I went one-on-one with MJ he beat me 48-0. I got one shot off … and it was blocked." Boxing is also one of Mannix's specialties. He has reported for SI on several championship fights, annually hands out SI.com's boxing awards and writes the website's "Inside Boxing" column. Mannix won the 2012 Boxing Writers Association of America's awards for Best Feature over 1,750 words and Best Feature under 1,750 words. In addition to his duties at SI, Mannix serves as host of The Chris Mannix Show on NBC Sports Radio (Sundays 6–9 p.m. ET) and is a co-host of Voices of the Game, with Newy Scruggs every Wednesday from Noon–3 p.m. ET. In addition, Mannix is a ringside reporter for Epix and Fight Night on NBC and NBC Sports Network, and is a regular guest and fill-in host on The Dan Patrick Show and The Crossover on NBC Sports Network. He also regularly appears on sports radio shows across the country, including weekly appearances in Miami, Orlando and Salt Lake City.  Mannix received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Boston College in 2003 and graduated from Boston College High School in 1998 (which makes him a double Eagle). He resides in New York City.