Indiana Pacers blow 18-point lead in Game 3 and fall to Boston Celtics, trail 0-3 in series

The Pacers hosted the Celtics Saturday night
May 25, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) dunks against Boston Celtics forward Oshae Brissett (12) and forward Sam Hauser (30) during the second 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; Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) dunks against Boston Celtics forward Oshae Brissett (12) and forward Sam Hauser (30) during the second 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

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers hosted the Boston Celtics for Game 3 of the 2024 Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. The Celtics entered the outing up 2-0 in the series, and their peak level looked excellent.

Indiana was missing star guard Tyrese Haliburton for Game 3. Their All-NBA ball handler left Thursday's battle with left hamstring soreness, and despite wanting to play Saturday, he was held out. Without him, Indiana started rookie wing Ben Sheppard. They were hoping to find a way to win shorthanded.

To kick off the action, the Celtics scored five quick points. They can hit hard at their best, and Indiana needed to respond. Guard Andrew Nembhard answered for the Pacers first basket by scoring in the lane.

Boston's offense scored 11 points in the first two minutes of play, but they didn't race away from the blue and gold. It was 11-7 at the time, but it was clear that it was going to be hard for the hosts to get stops. They were playing catch up early.

The Celtics reached 16 points without missing a shot. The Pacers did their best and kept up — they stayed within five for the first few minutes. At the first stoppage of the game, which came at the 6:58 mark of the first quarter, the visitors led 18-13.

Neither team did enough to change the early feel of the game across the next few possessions. Boston's lead hovered around five for the next five minutes of play as both teams made substitutions. If the Pacers weren't able to string together stops, they had little chance of mounting a comeback.

Indiana finally surged late in the quarter. Their offense scored on several consecutive trips, and they forced enough misses from the Celtics to trim the advantage down to one. Pascal Siakam, who had 11 first quarter points, got called for his second foul around that time, which was a significant blow for the blue and gold.

After one frame, the Celtics were ahead 32-31. Siakam's 11 points led the Pacers, and the blue and gold did well to fight and stay in the game after a rough start. Both teams shot over 55% in the period.

The Pacers scored first in the second quarter to take the lead. It was their first advantage of the night — Boston started hot and was tough to keep up with. The home team had to keep up their offensive level if they were going to maintain their lead.

They kept playing their way early in the second quarter. Indiana's bench continued to find the bottom of the net and made the Celtics uncomfortable, and they led 41-37 after four minutes of second quarter play. The Pacers were playing the exact type of game they needed to play to get a win without Haliburton.

Indiana's lead kept climbing throughout the second quarter. They were shooting nearly 65% from the field with five minutes to go until halftime, and every player on the floor was contributing. Nembhard and Obi Toppin hit consecutive shots around the time to balloon the edge to 11, which led to a timeout from the Celtics.

The advantage reached 15 a few possessions later. The Pacers were playing great basketball, and their pace was dictating everything. Boston was on the back foot for much of the first half as they tried to keep up with the increased tempo.

At halftime, the Pacers were ahead 69-57. Their terrific second quarter, in which they scored 38 points, had them leading. Nembhard had 21 points at the break while Siakam and Myles Turner each had 15.

To kick off the third quarter, the blue and gold continued to find offensive success. Nembhard, Siakam, and Turner — the standout players from the first half — were all finding the bottom of the net, and Indiana ballooned their lead to 14 in 4.5 minutes to start the second half. The crowd was invested in the action as the blue and gold continued to find a way to keep the Celtics away.

Indiana continued to find success on both ends of the floor throughout the period, and halfway through the third, they were ahead by 18 points. T.J. McConnell made consecutive important plays to expand his team's lead.

The Celtics found an offensive groove later in the frame as their stars found the bottom of the net. After a free throw from Jayson Tatum with 3:36 to go in the third quarter, the Pacers lead was down to 12. Siakam and Turner re-entered the game at the time, setting up a key stretch to end the period.

Boston kept pushing. Their run reached 10-2 in total as they cut the edge to seven in the final seconds of the quarter. The Pacers, via a Doug McDermott tip in, scored before the end of the quarter and expanded their lead to nine. It was 90-81 entering the final period.

To kick off the final frame, the Celtics found a few easy baskets to cut the lead down to five. They had been surging since the middle of the third quarter and were close to erasing their deficit. But they still had work to do, and Turner answered with a layup and foul shot.

Boston's continued push was overwhelming, and they cut the edge to three with an outside shot from Al Horford with 8:29 to go in the game. It was 93-90 at the time, and the Pacers were crumbling. They couldn't buy a bucket from deep, the Celtics had made 10 more outside shots at that point in the game.

The Pacers answered with four much-needed points to pull ahead by seven, but they needed to keep pushing down the stretch if they were going to win. The Celtics had all the momentum and have a ton of talent. Indiana couldn't afford to give up a run.

Finally, Indiana found the net on a three. Nembhard hit one, just the fourth of the game for the blue and gold, with under four minutes to go and it put the Pacers up by seven. McConnell drilled one on the ensuing trip down the floor to keep the hosts ahead by a few more points.

The Celtics answered with five quick points, though, and it was 109-106 with 90 seconds to go. The Pacers needed a few more stops and scores if they were going to win the game. The visitors were going to be tough to vanquish.

With one minute left in the game, the hosts were ahead 111-109. Every trip down the floor was vital, and the Pacers failed to score on their next possession. The Celtics answered with a shot and free throw from Jrue Holiday, and suddenly Boston had the lead.

Indiana missed, meaning they had to get a stop if they wanted to have a chance at a victory. There were 26 seconds left in the game but only 17 left on the shot clock, so the Pacers didn't have to foul.

The blue and gold got the stop they needed, but they turned the ball over on their next trip down the floor. The Celtics were headed to the foul line with 1.1 seconds to go with a chance to put themselves in the driver's seat

Holiday hit two foul shots, and the Pacers were down 114-111 with 1.7 seconds to go. They missed a three at the buzzer. Despite leading by 18 with 18 minutes left in the game, the Pacers fell 114-111. They now trail 0-3 in the series and will need a miracle to win it.

Siakam finished with 22 points and six assists. Turner had 22 points and 10 rebounds while Nembhard had 32 points and nine assists.

Game 4 is on Monday in Indianapolis.

  • Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton makes Third-Team All-NBA, earns a larger contract via rookie-scale extension. CLICK HERE.
  • Indiana Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton leaves Game 2 vs Boston Celtics with a sore left hamstring. CLICK HERE.
  • Historic offensive night for Indiana Pacers leads to historic Game 7 win over New York Knicks. CLICK HERE.
  • Pacers can't overcome strong Celtics defense in Game 2, fall behind 0-2 in series. CLICK HERE.
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Tony East


Tony East is the Publisher of AllPacers. He has previously written for Forbes Sports, the West Indianapolis Community News, WTHR, and more while hosting the Locked On Pacers podcast.