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SPORTS

Tatum Scores 36, Brown Hits 3 to Force OT and Celtics Edge Pacers 133-128 in Game 1 of East Finals

BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics entered the playoffs expecting to get everyone’s best shot.

The East’s top seed barely survived a tough one to open the Eastern Conference finals.

Jayson Tatum scored 36 points, including 10 in overtime after Jaylen Brown’s tying 3-pointer with 6.1 seconds remaining in regulation, and Boston rallied just in time for a 133-128 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night.

Jrue Holiday added a season-high 28 points and Brown finished with 26.

“Welcome to the NBA playoffs. You’ve just got to manage your emotions. Anything can happen,” Brown said of his tying 3. “It’s not over until the final buzzer sounds. … It’s not over until it’s over. We found a way to win the game at the very end.”

It gave his team a new life and helped it hang on to home-court advantage with Game 2 set for Thursday in Boston.

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) puts up a shot against Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) during the first quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

But guarding against complacency was also on the mind of Tatum. The Celtics have lost Game 2 in each of their previous two series.

“It doesn’t prove anything,” Tatum said. “We won a big-time game. The series is far from over.”

Tyrese Haliburton had 25 points and 10 assists for the Pacers, who knocked down 13 3-pointers and scored 56 points in the paint against a Celtics team still playing without 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis.

But Boston dialed up its defense, finishing with 11 steals — three each by Brown, Tatum and Holiday. The Celtics become the first team in NBA playoff history to have three players record 25 points and three steals in a game.

The Celtics were cold for most of the game from 3-point range, but ended the night 15 of 45 from beyond the arc.

“We keep talking about protecting home court,” Celtics forward Al Horford said. “It’s whatever it takes.”

Pascal Siakam added 24 points and 12 rebounds. Myles Turner finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds for the sixth-seeded Pacers, who twice turned it over with a three-point lead in the final 30 seconds of regulation.

Brown made them pay for the second one, hitting a 3 from the corner with Siakam right in his face to tie it at 117.

Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (33) dunks the ball against Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) during the second quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

“Jrue made a good pass, (Derrick White) set a great screen and the rest is history,” Brown said.

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla like the poise Brown showed.

“Jaylen had great balance,” he said. “Great pass, great shot.”

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said the loss was “totally on me” for not calling a timeout to advance the ball before their turnover that set up Brown’s shot.

Asked about the 21 turnovers Indiana committed, Haliburton said many of them were preventable.

“I think it’s more on us,” he said. “I just felt like more of them were probably on us than them forcing turnovers.”

The Celtics are now 2-2 when their opponent scores 100 or more points.

Holiday said the Celtics never panicked after falling behind late in regulation

“I think we always knew that there’s always a chance. We’ve seen crazy stuff happen all the time,” Holiday said. “I don’t think that we think we lost the game until we actually lost the game and that’s part of the reason why we were so resilient.”

Indiana went back ahead 123-121 when Haliburton hit all three free throws after being fouled with 1:46 remaining. Tatum then muscled in a layup and was fouled by T.J. McConnell. He completed the three-point play to put Boston ahead for good.

The Pacers turned it over again, this time by Haliburton. The ball found its way to Tatum at the top of key. He pumped, sidestepped a defender and sunk a 3 to make it 127-123 with 43 seconds left.

White and Siakam traded layups. Holiday was fouled and hit two free throws to give Boston a 131-125 cushion.

“It’s unfortunate we did so many good things in this game that it came down to a couple of mistakes at the end, but it’s the NBA playoffs,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to learn from it and we’ve got to bounce back.”

___
By KYLE HIGHTOWER AP Sports Writer

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