SI:AM | Pacers Collapse Again as Celtics Advance to Finals

The Indiana Pacers were horrendous at closing out games and it cost them the series.
Brown (right) led all scorers with 29 points in Game 4 as Boston swept Indiana.
Brown (right) led all scorers with 29 points in Game 4 as Boston swept Indiana. / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I experienced something at a baseball game this weekend that I never had before: A current U.S. senator walked right in front of me on his way to his seat.

In today’s SI:AM:

☘️ Celtics sweep their way to the NBA Finals
🏀 Remembering Bill Walton
🎾 Nadal’s last French Open?

The Pacers crashed and burned again

The Boston Celtics are headed to their second NBA Finals in three years after the Indiana Pacers collapsed in the fourth quarter Monday night to complete a four-game sweep.

Indiana’s struggles closing out games were the theme of the series. The Pacers choked away a late lead in Game 1 before losing in overtime, and they also squandered an eight-point lead over the final 2 1/2 minutes of Game 3. So it should come as no surprise that Game 4 was more of the same for Indiana.

Pascal Siakam’s jumper in the lane with 3:32 left to play made it 102–98 in favor of the Pacers. But that was the last time they scored. The Pacers went 0-for-4 from the floor with two turnovers the rest of the game as the Celtics went on to win 105–102.

The dagger was Derrick White’s corner three with 45 seconds left that proved to be the last basket of the game. White was the one who knocked down the shot, but Jaylen Brown also deserves a ton of credit for making the play happen. Brown, who led all scorers with 29 points, drove into the lane and caused four Indiana defenders to collapse around him, leaving White open for the clutch shot. Brown left his feet and found White with a perfect pass.

White’s shot came immediately after Brown made a critical defensive play, blocking an Andrew Nembhard layup attempt. Thanks in large part to those two plays and his game-tying shot to force overtime in Game 1, Brown was named MVP of the series.

“I like to set my hat on just being a versatile two-way wing and can do both at any point in time,” Brown told reporters, “and the last four minutes of this game, you saw that.”

The Celtics are, by several measures, one of the best teams in NBA history. They’re the first team in NBA history to average at least 123 points per 100 possessions and allow fewer than 112 points per 100 possessions. By Basketball Reference’s Simple Ratings System (a stat that combines point differential and strength of schedule), they’re the fifth-best team in NBA history. They won 64 games in the regular season and are now 12–2 in the playoffs. That’s a cumulative record of 76–20, making them just the ninth team since the advent of the current playoff format in 1984 to enter the NBA Finals with 20 losses or fewer.

But are they really that good? It seems like a silly question to ask, given that they have breezed their way through the NBA playoffs en route to another Finals appearance, but it’s one that will be asked ad nauseam during the long layoff before the Finals begin. (Even if the Dallas Mavericks complete their four-game sweep Tuesday night, the Finals won’t begin until June 6.)

The reason for the doubts is simple: Boston has benefited from having a relatively easy path to the Finals, even by the standards of the typical No. 1 seed. All three of its opponents thus far have dealt with significant injuries. The Miami Heat were without Jimmy Butler for the entirety of their first-round series. The Cleveland Cavaliers were missing Jarrett Allen for all of their second-round matchup and, more crucially, didn’t have Donovan Mitchell for the last two games. And then the Pacers were forced to play the last two games of the conference finals without Tyrese Haliburton.

It might have been beneficial for a national audience to see the Celtics against full-strength opponents in the playoffs and be reminded of how impressive they can be, but the fact that they’ve beaten up on some diminished teams shouldn’t take away from how great they have been all season.

Bill Walton on the cover of Sports Illustrated on October 15, 1979.
Basketball legend Bill Walton died of cancer Monday. Here he is on the cover of SI in 1979. / Peter Read Miller/Sports Illustrated

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Dan Gartland


Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).