Celtics vs. Pacers score: Jayson Tatum's huge scoring night, slick clutch pass help give Boston 3-0 lead

If the Boston Celtics weren't already in the driver's seat, they certainly are now after a 114-111 comeback win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday night. The Celtics, who erased an 18-point Indiana lead in the win, are now up 3-0 in the series with a chance to earn their second NBA Finals trip in three years in Monday night's Game 4.

Boston's all-around effort was punctuated by Jrue Holiday's go-ahead and-one layup with just under 40 seconds left. Holiday, who was listed as questionable ahead of Game 3, then picked up a massive steal on Andrew Nembhard and sank two free throws to give the Celtics a three-point lead that the Pacers couldn't match on the final play.

All five of Boston's starters scored in double figures, led by Jayson Tatum's 36 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. One of those assists was to Holiday on the go-ahead basket. Al Horford contributed 23 points, including 7-of-12 from 3-point range, along with five rebounds. Jaylen Brown added another 24 points.

The Pacers, who played without All-Star Tyrese Halliburton, put up a valiant fight. For most of the game, it looked like Indiana would be able to protect home court without its All-NBA point guard, however, Boston was just too much down the stretch. 

Nembhard had the game of his career with a 32-point, nine-assist performance, making several clutch plays along the way. Pascal Siakam added 22 points and T.J. McConnell put up 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists off the bench. Haliburton's status remains in question heading into Monday.

Here are a few takeaways from Saturday night's nail-biter.

Two-way Jrue

After feeling ill for most of the day, Holiday elected to suit up and made the two biggest plays of the night for Boston. Never one to look for his own shot first, Holiday put his head down and got to the basket with 39 seconds left, then converted a tough, left-handed layup over the bigger Siakam to tie the game. He also made the ensuing free throw to give the Celtics their first lead since early in the second quarter.

Holiday wasn't done, as he then took the task of guarding Nembhard on the Pacers' next possession. Nembhard, who made difficult shots and plays all night long, attempted to drive to his right. Holiday beat him to his spot, bodied him up and stripped the ball away with his left hand for a game-altering steal.

Holiday then converted two huge free throws with less than two seconds remaining, giving his team a 3-point lead that Indiana couldn't equal on the final play.

This is exactly why the Celtics traded for Holiday, arguably the best perimeter defender in the league. Not only is he an unselfish, low-maintenance cog willing to do anything the team needs, but he's also made huge postseason plays throughout his career -- notably as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks during their championship run in 2021. In three games against the Pacers this series, he's averaged 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds on ridiculous 61/44/100 shooting splits.

Ageless Al

One of the tradeoffs from starting Al Horford for the injured Kristaps Porzingis was supposed to be that Horford's 3-point volume wouldn't be as high. Well, so much for that. The nearly 38-year-old center fired early and often, knocking down a career-high seven 3-pointers in 12 attempts. His biggest one came on an impressive behind-the-back pass from Tatum, which cut the deficit to two points with just over a minute left.

"That was an unbelievable play that he made, and at that point, it was just taking my time and knocking it down," Horford said of Tatum's pass after the win.

What a luxury it is to have Horford, a sage veteran still capable of playing huge playoff minutes, ready and willing to step into the starting lineup whenever his number is called. Porzingis is expected to return at some point during the conference finals (maybe not if the Celtics are able to complete the sweep), but Horford is showing his team that they'll be just fine with him on the floor.

Nembhard breaks out

We'd be remiss if we didn't spend some extra time talking about how great Nembhard was on Saturday. He was absolutely dominant getting to the rim and made four of the Pacers' five 3-pointers on the night, finishing 12-for-21 from the field overall. Nembhard was 7-for-9 at the rim, as he burned the Celtics' perimeter defenders time after time.

His 21 first-half points were already a playoff career high, and he finished with 32. Not only that, but he also dished out nine assists, leveraging the attention he commanded to get his teammates buckets.

The Pacers are going to be a formidable team in the Eastern Conference for many years to come, and the 24-year-old Nembhard has cemented himself as a huge part of their impressive attack.

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FINAL: Celtics 114, Pacers 111

(Celtics lead series, 3-0)

After a monumental comeback, the Celtics made clutch play after clutch play to win Game 3 in Indiana and take a 3-0 lead against the Pacers. Just a reminder that no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in any series. The Pacers absolutely dominated the first half, but Boston turned up the defense in the third and fourth quarters to slowly chip away until Jrue Holiday's and-one finally gave them the lead with just under 40 seconds left.

Holiday wasn't done, as he made a tremendous defensive play to steal the ball from Andrew Nembhard on the Pacers' subsequent possession. He also knocked down the late free throws that gave Boston a three point lead, which ended up being the final margin after a missed Aaron Nesmith 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded. Game 4 is set for Monday night in Indiana, as the Celtics try to get back to the Finals for the second time in three years.

Notable stats:

  • Jayson Tatum: 36 pts, 10 reb, 8 ast
  • Jaylen Brown: 24 pts, 3 ast, 10-18 FG
  • Al Horford: 23 pts, 5 reb, 7-12 3P
  • Andrew Nembhard: 32 pts, 9 ast, 4 reb
  • Pascal Siakam: 22 pts, 6 ast
  • Myles Turner: 22 pts, 10 reb
  • TJ McConnell: 23 pts, 9 reb, 6 ast
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We're in for a great finish

A Jrue Holiday and-one gives the Celtics the lead, and now the Pacers have the ball with just under 40 seconds left. The Pacers have been making plays all night when they need them, but the Celtics have ramped up the defense over the past two quarters and made things very difficult. You'd have to think something will be drawn up for Andrew Nembhard or Pascal Siakam here, since they've been Indiana's two best offensive options all night.

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Here come the Celtics

Aaaaaand we have a three-point game. The Celtics have carried over the momentum they built in the third quarter and have been the aggressor in the fourth. The Pacers aren't finding any breathing room on offense, diametrically opposed to their offensive explosion in the first half. You have to wonder if Indiana is going to be able to withstand what the Celtics are going to bring to end this game.

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End of 3rd quarter - Pacers 90, Celtics 81

The Celtics definitely showed some more intensity on the defensive end in that third quarter, blocking and stealing the ball repeatedly from the Pacers, but at the end of the frame they've only trimmed three points off the halftime deficit. That's due to some ice cold shooting from deep from Boston as they attempt to make their comeback. We'll see if the shots start falling and if they can keep up their menacing defense for 12 more minutes.

Notable stats:

  • Jayson Tatum: 29 pts, 8 reb, 4 ast
  • Jaylen Brown: 20 pts, 2 ast, 8-15 FG
  • Andrew Nembhard: 23 pts, 8 ast, 9-14 FG
  • Pascal Siakam: 20 pts, 5 ast
  • Myles Turner: 19 pts, 8 reb, 8-12 FG
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Nembhard dropping dimes

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Pacers winning battle of the boards

In addition to shooting the lights out, Indiana is also cleaning up on the glass. They have 29 rebounds compared to Boston's 20, and have allowed just two offensive rebounds and two second-chance points to the Celtics. It's been a collective effort from the Pacers, as everyone but Doug McDermott has at least one rebound and six players have three or more.

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Halftime - Pacers 69, Celtics 57

In the NBA, usually the team that wins the 3-point battle wins the game, but the Pacers have figured out a way to get around that -- just don't miss any 2-pointers. The Celtics have made 10 3s compared to Indiana's three, and yet the Pacers have the lead because they're shooting 64% (28-44) from the field. Simply remarkable.

They've done it with a parade to the rim, scoring 42 points in the paint -- the most Boston has allowed in a half all season. Did I mention the Pacers doing all of this without All-NBA point guard Tyrese Haliburton? On the Celtics side, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown came to play, combining for 34 points in the first half, while Andrew Nembhard has poured in 21 points for Indiana.

Notable stats:

  • Jayson Tatum: 20 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast
  • Jaylen Brown: 14 pts, 2 ast, 6-10 FG
  • Andrew Nembhard: 21 pts, 5 ast, 8-10 FG
  • Pascal Siakam: 15 pts, 3 ast
  • Myles Turner: 15 pts, 5 reb, 6-8 FG
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Indiana can't miss

It's kind of easy to win basketball games if you ... NEVER MISS A SHOT. The Pacers are absolutely on fire, shooting 22 for 34 from the field (65%) as they've built an 11-point lead. Most impressive -- they've done it while hitting just one 3-pointer. Meanwhile the Celtics aren't exactly hurling up bricks, shooting 50% from the field and 44% from 3-point range, yet they find themselves down by double-digits. What a game so far for the Pacers without their offensive engine, Tyrese Haliburton.

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Pacers dominating inside

The main reason why Indiana has been able to take the lead is the fact that they're outscoring Boston 32-10 in the paint. Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner have made it their mission to get into the teeth of the Celtics defense, and they've been able to convert so far.

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End of 1st quarter - Celtics 32, Pacers 31

The Celtics came out strong, hitting basically everything they put up, but the Pacers stayed the course and chipped away until the got within a point after the first quarter. Tyrese Haliburton's absence hasn't been felt as of yet, as Indiana put up a massive point total. If they're going to win, though, they're going to need to figure out how to get some stops -- particularly against Jayson Tatum, who has it going early.

Notable stats:

  • Jayson Tatum: 15 pts, 3 reb
  • Al Horford: 6 pts, 2-3 3P
  • Pascal Siakam: 11 pts
  • Myles Turner: 8 pts, 4-5 FG
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Hot shooting on both sides

Well if this keeps up we could be in store for a 400-point game. The Pacers and Celtics have combined to go 13 for 18 from the field in the first six minutes, and the Celtics are 3 for 5 from 3-point range. Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum are taking the lead for their respective sides early. We'll see how the teams adjust to the hot start on both sides.