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‘Different’ Celtics have more work to do, but so far, they’ve passed every test

INDIANAPOLIS — This time, a trip to the Eastern Conference finals by the Boston Celtics ended without any clamoring from the public and the press box that the coach must go and, oh, by the way, let’s aim a wrecking ball at the roster.

This time, it ended with the Celtics emerging with a 105-102 victory over the Indiana Pacers Monday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse to complete a sweep of the Indiana Pacers. Some rapid-fire play-by-play is required here, beginning with how the Celtics, trailing for most of the night, went on a late 10-2 run. Jayson Tatum made it 100-100 with a driving dunk, and then, ahem, series MVP Jaylen Brown tied it again, this time 102-102, with an 8-foot jump shot. Brown next delivered defense, blocking Andrew Nembhard’s would-be 3-pointer with 1:05 remaining.

And then? And then it ended, for all practical purposes, with Derrick White nailing a 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining, this after the Celtics had rallied from an 8-point deficit with 5:56 remaining and a 5-point deficit with 4:14 to go.


Celtics sweep Pacers to advance to NBA Finals

Yes, White’s game-winner happened to fall on the first anniversary of his improbable game-winning buzzer-beater against Miami in Game 6 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals, but that’s just fodder for Trivia Night at the local sports bar, folks. In the real world, especially the real NBA, it means nothing. For these 2024 playoff Celtics are not those 2023 playoff Celtics, who rallied for three straight victories after losing the first three games and then got blown out in Game 7 at TD Garden. Nope, these Celtics are not those Celtics at all, a point that was made by Brown after the game when he said, “We have a different team every year, different coaches. We’ve had like three coaches in the last five years. And still, people want to make it seem like it’s the same, it’s the same, it’s the same. Time has gone by. Experience has been gained. And we are ready to put our best foot forward.”

Brown is correct, of course. Just as he was correct, and really, really funny, when asked if he was surprised to be named series MVP. “I wasn’t expecting it at all,” he said. “I never win (expletive), so …”



Jaylen Brown wins Eastern Conference finals MVP

The yuck-yuck is that Brown didn’t walk away with any of the individual regular-season awards that a lot of NBA fans, including an NBA fan named Jaylen Brown, thought he should have won. It’s nice to roll it out there that Brown proved his skeptics wrong with his stellar effort against the Pacers — the 3-pointer from the corner to win Game 1 in overtime, the 40-point effort in Game 2, the solid two-way play in Game 4 — but it’s more than that. Yes, the Celtics “have a different team every year,” but this is where it’s the same, it’s the same, it’s the same: These are the Tatum/Brown Celtics, or, for those who believe placement on the marquee is important, the Brown/Tatum Celtics. It’s their time, their very own era, and they haven’t delivered a championship yet. Now they’re in the NBA Finals for the second time in three years, but with a better supporting cast — especially if Kristaps Porziņģis returns.

And so if expectations mean anything — and they do, they do — the Celtics have won nothing yet. There’s simply no scenario by which a Celtic fail in the NBA Finals against Dallas or Minnesota will be spun into silver linings, life lessons or glasses half-filled. But that’s for later on. For now, for today, the Celtics’ magnificent eyes-on-the-prize work ethic is to be saluted.

Couple what happened in Game 4 with what happened in Game 3, when Boston rallied to victory after trailing by 18 points, and what we have here is a team that every coach at every level can use for show-and-tell when explaining that talented teams don’t win on talent alone. They also win because they’re capable of old-fashioned gut checks.

“We feel comfortable in any type of game,” White said. “We feel like we have the answers for anything teams throw at us, no matter what the scenario is.”

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Much will be written that the Pacers conveniently rolled over for the Celtics in this series. They probably should have won Game 1, and they could have won Games 3 and 4. They also have a lot of unhappy fans who believe Brown should have received a flagrant with 7:23 remaining when he inadvertently struck T.J. McConnell in the face — hard — as the Pacer was grabbing a rebound. It was ruled a common foul. “We feel that it was unfortunate, but it did not rise to the level of a flagrant foul,” crew chief Zach Zarba said, per a pool report.

There’s room for a grown-up discussion as to how that play should have been adjudicated. Kevin McHale clotheslining Kurt Rambis it was not, but it was a hit with hair on it, even if delivered by accident.

To argue that the Pacers should have won this or that game is to take criticism of the Celtics to an absurd level. It’s like saying the Seattle Seahawks should have won Super Bowl XLIX but lost to the Patriots because Russell Wilson decided to throw the ball. It’s like saying the Red Sox should have won Game 6 of the 1986 World Series but lost because Bill Buckner had the ball go between his legs.

Stop that. Really, stop it. The Celtics are now 12-2 in the playoffs. But they’re not mauling everybody. They just happen to be the team with the best record and the best gut checks.

(Photo of Derrick White’s winning shot over Aaron Nesmith: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

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