How Celtics Validated Themselves In East Finals Sweep Of Pacers

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The Boston Celtics dusted their hands off and put the brooms down with a sigh of relief by eliminating the Indiana Pacers in four games to secure a long-awaited ticket back to the NBA Finals.

Huddling up to raise the Bob Cousy Trophy alongside Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell on Monday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse was the organization’s carefully planned vision. In the offseason, the risky but correct triggers were pulled, and during the regular season, the roster committed to ensuring that history wouldn’t repeat itself, and thoughts of “what if” wouldn’t loom.

“We got a lot of great players in our locker room that made big-time plays,” series MVP Jaylen Brown said after Boston’s 105-102 win, per CLNS Media. “Jrue (Holiday) was one game, (Derrick) White was this game, Al (Horford) was another game, (Jayson Tatum); we’ve all been able to take turns just being able to make impactful winning plays and that’s what it’s about.”

Entering the year, it was no secret that Boston would need to live up to the hype of the blueprint president of basketball operations Brad Stevens laid down on the parquet. Swapping Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams for Kristaps Porizingis and Jrue Holiday wasn’t done to boost the roster’s popularity — which it did. Restructuring the cast surrounding Tatum and Brown was a tip-of-the-cap from ownership, expressing its trust in Boston’s co-stars to make the most of an already-great situation.

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Multi-year contract extensions were given to Brown, Porzingis and Holiday before walking into the postseason, signaling ownership’s willingness to keep the core intact for as long as possible.

Taking the postseason one step at a time, and following a league-best 64-win regular season, the Celtics understood the assignment. In no situation, regardless of whether Porzingis is healthy or not, would falling in the first, semifinal or conference final rounds be acceptable again. It’s championship or bust, and especially considering the beneficial circumstances of postseason injuries striking Miami, Cleveland and Indiana, it’s always been — and still remains — Boston’s title finals appearance lose.

“That playoff run (last season) was a lot of up and downs,” Tatum explained, per CLNS Media. “Obviously, we fell short of the ultimate goal. Last year, lost in the conference finals so I think we’ve just applied everything that we’ve learned to this season, to this postseason, and it’s been working really well.”

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It’s been hard to believe the Celtics have studied their many postseason learning lessons since six trips — in the last eight seasons — to the conference finals have produced zero titles. Chalking up failures to learning lessons becomes stale really fast when the result isn’t changing, but this season, and this series with Indiana, Boston can say loud and proud, lesson learned.

When the series opened up in Boston for Game 1, the Celtics escaped a 117-114 jam with 10 seconds left in regulation. In Game 3, the Celtics overcame an 18-point deficit in the third quarter. Typically, those situations were Boston’s kyrptonite but in three crunch-time tests against the Pacers, Brown, Holiday and White bailed the Celtics out to pass them all.

Adjustments weren’t just acknowledged as needs, they were applied.

“Just being decisive, understanding, watching a lot of film, knowing the things we want to run in those late-game situations,” Tatum added, per CLNS Media. “And being able to apply it, and have it carry over from film sessions to practice and rounds and things like that.”

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The Celtics were under pressure more than in control throughout the series, but their ability to find solutions outweighed all else, putting them four wins away from reaching the top of the mountain and hanging Banner 18. When push came to shove, the team didn’t duck under the covers, they relished.

“We want to enjoy this,” White said, per CLNS Media. “It’s a grind, it’s not easy. We’re gonna enjoy it for a little bit and then we’re gonna lock in and do what we need to do. We’ll figure out who our opponent is and do what we need to do.”

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