Ailing Holiday lifts Celtics past Pacers for 3-0 lead in ECF

AP
High Five. Jrue Holiday gets a high five from teammate Al Horford after the Boston Celtics take a commanding 3-0 lead over the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. / AP

INDIANAPOLIS — Jrue Holiday didn’t feel well all day. He even missed the team’s morning shootaround.

When it mattered most, though, the Celtics guard looked just fine.

Holiday converted a three-point play with 38.9 seconds left to give Boston its first lead in nearly 36 minutes, followed that with the game-saving steal and then clinched the 114-111 victory at Indiana with two free throws Saturday night, May 25, 2024, to give Celtics a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Celtics overcame an 18-point deficit in the second half and can earn their second NBA Finals trip in three years with another win Monday at Indiana.

“I’m all right, had a fever, slept a lot. But I feel OK,” Holiday said. “I just made a play (at the end). He’s a great player, had a great game. I just made a play.”

Holiday finished with 14 points, five in the final 39 seconds, and had nine rebounds on a night that, at times, he appeared to be under the weather. Afterward, though, he sounded like himself and felt well enough to balance his children on his lap.

As Holiday struggled to find his footing, Boston’s other players got the job done.

Jayson Tatum matched his playoff career high with 36 points and had 10 rebounds and eight assists. Jaylen Brown added 24 points, and 37-year-old Al Horford had 23 points and was 7-of-12 on 3-pointers.

But it was Holiday’s late-game heroics that silenced Indiana’s raucous crowd and kept Boston a perfect 5-0 on the road in this season’s playoffs.

“I’m glad we got him, Jrue’s a hell of a competitor,” Tatum said. “Obviously, he’s won a championship. For him to come out here and put it all on the line for us and come up with a big play to win the game, we’ve got a hell of a team.”

The Pacers were already facing a formidable road back in this series — even before they learned All-NBA guard Tyrese Haliburton would not play in Game 3 because of a left hamstring injury. It’s not clear if he’ll be available for Game 4, either.

Still, the Pacers refused to break.

Andrew Nembhard led the Pacers with a career-high 32 points before Holiday stole the ball from him with 3.3 seconds remaining. T.J. McConnell finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while Myles Turner and Pascal Siakam each had 22 points. Turner also had 10 rebounds.

Indiana had a chance to force overtime but Aaron Nesmith’s 3-pointer was off the mark.

As well as the Pacers played, scoring 69 points in the first half, twice taking 18-point leads and still holding a 107-99 advantage with three minutes to go against the NBA’s top team, it was clear the Pacers missed having Haliburton on the court.

“Courageous. Our guys played a great game,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We came up a little short tonight, but we will be back Monday and we will be punching even harder.”

Still, a sellout crowd decked primarily in gold checkered flag shirts featuring dozens of individual stamps of Indiana’s state outline and filled with actors here for the Indianapolis 500 weekend celebration, helped energize the Pacers as they had through the first playoff home games, all wins.

But Holiday’s finishing flurry — a big layup, the go-ahead free throw, the defensive play of the game and two free throws to seal it with 1.1 left — quieted the crowd on a wild night.

Indiana built an 18-point lead midway through the second quarter and matched that margin again midway through the third. The second time, Boston used a series of Indiana turnovers to spur a 13-4 spurt that got them within 90-81 after three.

The Celtics then opened the fourth on a 9-3 run that got them within 93-90 on Horford’s 3 with 8:29 to go.

Indiana answered by rebuilding a 107-99 cushion with 3:05 left, only to watch Boston go on a 13-2 run fueled by Holiday.

“We’ve met every challenge,” Tatum said. “We’re in great position right now, one win away from the finals. But we can’t look past Monday or anything like that and we have a special opportunity to go back to the finals.” / AP

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