Celtics vs. Pacers score: Boston stands tall to complete sweep of Indiana in Eastern Conference finals

The top-seeded Boston Celtics took care of business in Indiana on Monday, beating the Pacers 105-102 to complete a sweep of the Eastern Conference finals. With the win, the Celtics are heading back to the NBA Finals, their second Finals appearance in three seasons. 

Jaylen Brown was named Larry Bird Eastern Conference finals MVP for his efforts all series. Additionally, team owner Wyc Grousbeck dedicated the win to Bill Walton, who passed away earlier on Monday. 

It was a back-and-forth effort all night long, but Boston managed to pull away in the game's waning seconds, when Derrick White made a clutch go-ahead 3-pointer. Andrew Nembhard missed a chance to tie, and the Celtics held strong to secure the 4-0 series win. 

Boston was led by Brown, who dropped 29 points on 11-of-22 shooting, to go along with six rebounds, two assists and a three steals. One of Brown's assists was to White on that pivotal play. Jayson Tatum added 26 of his own, along with 13 rebounds and eight assists.

The Pacers were once again without the services of All-Star Tyrese Haliburton, who also missed Game 3. In his absence, Nembhard led the way with 24 points. T.J. McConnell was lightning off the bench again, having added 15 points of his own. Pascal Siakam contributed a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but in the end it was all for naught. 

For the Celtics, they now await a date with either the Mavericks or Timberwolves. There, they will hope to have Kristaps Porzingis back in the fold. Meanwhile, the Pacers will head home, having had a terrific 2024 campaign with a bright future. 

Here are the biggest takeaways from Boston's conference-clinching win

Boston's historic run

The Celtics only seem to be discussed through the lens of failure. Every loss seems to spark the same nationwide debate about why they so often seem to play with their food rather than just eating it. They didn't sweep the injury-riddled Heat. They didn't sweep the injury-riddled Cavaliers. They did sweep the Pacers, but only through a series of brutally close photo finishes. They still haven't played a traditional, championship-caliber team in the playoffs. Fine. All of that is valid. But look at this team from the 10,000-foot view.

As The Ringer's Bill Simmons researched, the Celtics are just the ninth team of the past 40 seasons to reach the NBA Finals with 20 or fewer total losses between the regular season and playoffs. They just had the best net rating of the 21st century in the regular season at +11.7, and they've followed that up with a +10.8 playoff net rating thus far, which is better than any team has posted over a full postseason since the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors went 16-1 en route to the title. They had the greatest regular-season offense in NBA history along with this season's No. 2 defense. They rank second in playoff offense and third in playoff defense.

By any objective measure, the Celtics are not just a championship team. They are a historic team. It may not always look pretty. They may get too caught up in 3-pointers and their defensive effort might lapse against bad teams and they may not pass the ball enough, but you can't argue with these results. The Celtics have run roughshod over the NBA for eight months, and any version of the 2024 NBA Finals that did not include them would have been played without one of the NBA's two best teams.

The Celtics need Porzingis back for the Finals

All of that said, we can freely acknowledge that Boston didn't exactly take the path to the Finals that it looks like Dallas will have taken. It played an easy conference that was overwhelmed by injuries, and that allowed it to overcome a big injury of its own. Kristaps Porzingis has not played since the first round. The Celtics survived without him, but it wasn't easy.

The Celtics endured a 2-of-17 stretch from 3-point range in the second and third quarters of Game 4 that encapsulated why Porzingis is so important to this team. Boston is, at times, a bit mechanical offensively. They can lack feel and default to a very simple "take the analytically correct shot" mindset regardless of game flow. When those shots are falling, they're blowing the doors off of their opponents. When they aren't? You get something like what we saw in Game 4, an offense that was more or less just waiting for the 3s to start going in.

This is what Porzingis is here to alleviate. Yes, he can make 3s, and yes, he's important defensively as well. But when the offense bogs down, and it will against the stellar Dallas defense, Porzingis is exactly the sort of player that can shake the Celtics free of their worst tendencies by making shots they so often try not to take. A 7-foot-2 center with a 7-foot-6 wingspan that can make shots from anywhere is a mismatch everywhere. Sometimes, you just need to throw that guy the ball around the nail and let him hit a mid-range jumper or two to help the offense find a rhythm again. He is, in short, Boston's only source of easy offense.

You need easy offense against the Mavericks. Minnesota's failure to generate it, especially late in games, is why the Timberwolves trail 3-0 right now. The version of the Celtics we saw against the Pacers that only attacked the basket against mismatches and otherwise lived and died behind the arc can't beat the Mavericks. The one with Porzingis that won 64 regular-season games might.

The Pacers are here to stay

The "closest sweep in NBA history" trope got played into the ground last year when the Denver Nuggets knocked the Los Angeles Lakers out of the Western Conference Finals. It wasn't entirely accurate. Aside from the fact that it wasn't technically accurate (Boston's 2022 sweep over Brooklyn, by a combined 18 points, is the record-holder), it didn't really capture the tenor of the series. Denver jogged its way through three quarters before eviscerating the Lakers in the fourth. It was evident as it was happening.

That's not really what happened here, though Boston obviously won Games 1, 3 and 4 late. The Pacers, with their star point guard sidelined for the last two games, completely dictated the terms of engagement in this series. The second-fastest team in the NBA forced Boston to compete in track meets, a rare feat in the postseason. Their traps sped up Boston within the half-court, and a Celtic defense littered with All-Defense choices and candidates had no answer for players like Andrew Nembhard and T.J. McConnell one-on-one.

Indiana's shot-making wasn't always sustainable, but the overarching theory of their team was proven viable in this series. They can force more talented contenders to play their style. Their array of stylistically unique role players can't be played off of the floor in high-leverage moments. The Pacers pushed the Celtics to the brink with a 6-foot-1 point guard that doesn't shoot 3s. How many of those even exist anymore?

Tyrese Haliburton will hopefully be healthier next year. McConnell and Pascal Siakam are the only players slated to be on next year's roster that have even hit their 30th birthdays. Andrew Nembhard will be better. Benedict Mathurin will be healthy and better. Maybe they'll be able to get something out of No. 8 pick Jarace Walker, who barley played this year. The Pacers may have needed some injury help from the Bucks and Knicks to get here, but they made the most of their trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. They can build on this and make another run at it next year.

Link copied

FINAL: Celtics 105, Pacers 102

It's over! The Boston Celtics are returning to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years. The game swung on one sequence in the final minute in which Jaylen Brown created a 3-pointer for Derrick White, and Andrew Nembhard missed a 3-pointer in response. When Jayson Tatum missed a 3-pointer that would have iced it, Jrue Holiday's offensive rebound sealed the game for Boston. The Celtics have clinched one of the two available slots in the Finals, and the Dallas Mavericks are one game away from taking the other. 

May 28, 2024, 2:39 AM
May. 27, 2024, 10:39 pm EDT
See New Posts
Link copied

Boston is 29 seconds away from the Finals

Derrick White drills a clutch 3 off of Jaylen Brown's pass. Andrew Nembhard misses a 3 in response. The Celtics are so close to reaching the Finals.

May 28, 2024, 2:36 AM
May. 27, 2024, 10:36 pm EDT
Link copied

Boston can't get over the hill and Indiana can't control the ball

It's a 102-102 tie with 1:09 remaining. The Celtics have missed several shots to take the lead. The Pacers keep turning the ball over. Whichever team executes better in these last 69 seconds is going to win. The mistakes are going to haunt whoever loses.

May 28, 2024, 2:34 AM
May. 27, 2024, 10:34 pm EDT
Link copied

It's gonna be a photo finish in Indiana

It's 102-98 with 3:32 remaining. The Pacers have led by as many as nine, but the Celtics just won't go away. What to watch for out of this timeout is whether or not Jayson Tatum returns to the game. He has five fouls, but with so little time remaining, you're just going to have to risk it.

May 28, 2024, 2:30 AM
May. 27, 2024, 10:30 pm EDT
Link copied

T.J. McConnell takes a hard foul

Jaylen Brown just inadvertently knocked T.J. McConnell in the face as he was going for the ball, and McConnell took a hard fall. He's been on the ground in some pain, and it's getting reviewed for a possible flagrant foul.

May 28, 2024, 2:18 AM
May. 27, 2024, 10:18 pm EDT
Link copied

Not a great look for Boston's elite guard defenders

Jrue Holiday and Derrick White were the best guard defenders in the NBA this season. Holiday made All-Defense and White came close. T.J. McConnell and Andrew Nembhard are 15-of-26 from the floor in this game. This is a backup and a second-year player playing without their All-Star point guard. If this is what they're doing, what's going to happen in the Finals when Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic show up?

May 28, 2024, 2:11 AM
May. 27, 2024, 10:11 pm EDT
Link copied

Can Boston find the stroke from deep?

The Celtics are 3-of-19 from deep after their hot start. Make even one more of those shots and it's a tie game. If the Celtics start making their 3's, they'll win this game. If not? The Pacers win and we're headed back to Boston. It's an 83-80 game in favor of Indiana through three.

May 28, 2024, 2:03 AM
May. 27, 2024, 10:03 pm EDT
Link copied

The Pacers are winning the 3-point battle

The Pacers shot 3-of-22 from deep in Game 3. The Celtics are one of the best shooting teams of all time. But Indiana has now made 10 3-pointers to Boston's nine. The Celtics are so dependent on the 3-point line that if they lose the battle from deep, they're probably going to lose the game.

May 28, 2024, 1:52 AM
May. 27, 2024, 9:52 pm EDT
Link copied

Double technicals on Turner and Brown

Myles Turner just committed an obvious offensive foul on Derrick White, and Jaylen Brown didn't take kindly to that. He gave Turner a little shove as he made his way towards White, and then Turner responded with a hefty shove of his own. They were initially called for double technicals, and that call was confirmed on replay.

May 28, 2024, 1:43 AM
May. 27, 2024, 9:43 pm EDT
Link copied

A star has been born in this series, and his name is Andrew Nembhard

Andrew Nembhard is blossoming into one of the most promising young guards in basketball right before our very eyes. He had 32 points in Game 3 and has now scored 19 so far in Game 4. He's been by far the best Pacer with Tyrese Haliburton sidelined, and he's doing everything in his power to keep Indiana's season alive.

May 28, 2024, 1:36 AM
May. 27, 2024, 9:36 pm EDT
Link copied

Halftime: Celtics 58, Pacers 57

It's been yet another barn-burner between the Celtics and Pacers here in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Yet again, the offense has been at the forefront, and once again, it's Andrew Nembhard leading the way for the Pacers with 16 points, Jayson Tatum has matched him with 16 of his own, and both teams have made 40% of their 3-pointers. If Boston is going to complete the sweep tonight, it is going to need to step up on the defensive end, because so far, the Pacers are getting whatever they want.

May 28, 2024, 1:18 AM
May. 27, 2024, 9:18 pm EDT
Link copied

We're playing at Indiana's pace

Again, this is the sort of game Indiana wants to play. They can't beat the Celtics in a slower, physical game, but they've successfully compelled them into a track meet. Boston can win those games too, but this faster pace makes it much easier for Pascal Siakam to get mismatches in the post and for T.J. McConnell to navigate within the paint.

May 28, 2024, 1:00 AM
May. 27, 2024, 9:00 pm EDT
Link copied

What a 3-point shooting display from both sides

The Celtics and Pacers are a combined 12-of-24 from deep so far in this game. This is the sort of game tenor Indiana needs to remain competitive. They know they can score inside of the arc with their mid-range game, but Boston is reliant on triples. They're matching the Celtics at their own game, now can Boston do the same to Indiana?

May 28, 2024, 12:50 AM
May. 27, 2024, 8:50 pm EDT
Link copied

McConnell beats the buzzer!

Indiana's set plays in this series have been a thing of beauty, and this one set T.J. McConnell up for a buzzer-beating scoop layup to cut Boston's lead down to 29-27 after one quarter.

May 28, 2024, 12:45 AM
May. 27, 2024, 8:45 pm EDT
Link copied

Payton Pritchard kicked in the face

You don't see this one every day: Isaiah Jackson just fell for Payton Pritchard's fake... and on the jump, he inadvertently kicked him in the face. It wasn't a flagrant foul as it was completely inadvertent, but it's still the sort of foul you almost never see.

May 28, 2024, 12:43 AM
May. 27, 2024, 8:43 pm EDT
Link copied

Indiana's bench to the rescue again

All five Pacer starters have negative point-differentials. However, Every Pacer reserve has a positive point-differential except for Doug McDermott, who just brought the Pacers within three with a 3-pointer. McDermott wasn't even in the rotation before Tyrese Haliburton got hurt, but it's all hands on deck for Indiana, and just as they have all postseason, the bench has delivered. 

May 28, 2024, 12:31 AM
May. 27, 2024, 8:31 pm EDT
Link copied

The shot profile hasn't changed

The types of shots we're seeing so far are much of the same. The Celtics have four 3-pointers in the first five minutes. The Pacers haven't made one yet, but are continuing to thrive in the mid-range. As we know, three is more than two. If Boston continues to dominate from deep, the Celtics will finish this series tonight.

May 28, 2024, 12:22 AM
May. 27, 2024, 8:22 pm EDT
Link copied

Celtics still letting Nembhard shoot

Andrew Nembhard had the best game of his career in Game 3, scoring 32 points in Indiana's near miss. Coming into Game 4, the question was whether or not the Celtics would treat him more like a traditional primary ball-handler with Tyrese Haliburton out. The answer, so far, is still no. They're going under screens and letting him fire away.

May 28, 2024, 12:17 AM
May. 27, 2024, 8:17 pm EDT
Link copied

Tyrese Haliburton to miss Game 4 

Haliburton will not suit up for Indiana's win-or-go-home matchup against the Celtics, according to head coach Rick Carlisle. The Pacers' All-Star had already missed Game 3, and his status heading into Game 4 was questionable. Now that he is officially out, Indiana will hope to extend its season with its remaining healthy players, including Andrew Nembhard, who played his best game in Haliburton's absence. 

The hamstring strain appears to be an issue that Haliburton could not play through -- one that has plagued him throughout the second half of the season. Elsewhere, the Celtics will have the services of both Game 3 hero Jrue Holiday and Luke Kornet. Holiday, who had been questionable once again with a non-Covid illness, will suit up as will Kornet, who missed Game 3 with a left wrist sprain. Kristaps Porzingis remains out, though that was to be expected given the nature of his injury and Boston's 3-0 series lead.