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In the first half, both teams played their best offensive ball of the series before things stalled out in the second half. It seemed like neither squad could miss.
Tim Bontemps @TimBontemps
Five minutes into the second half, the Celtics are 2 for 10, and the Pacers are 1 for 8. This looks much more like the first two games of this series than the first half’s track meet did.
Tim Bontemps @TimBontemps
The Pacers have — to put it mildly — had their chances in this series. They are now 5-for-13 in the fourth quarter, and 10-for-36 in the second half. They’ll leave thinking they could’ve won for the third straight game — but will be down 3-0 in the series.
Opposite to the flow of the game, it took until the second half for Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to get going. Once he did, the Celtics pulled away. The 27-year-old finished with 19 points, 10 assists and five rebounds.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Kyrie is at his best in the 4Q
Uncle Drew took over late and led the Celtics to a 3-0 series lead https://t.co/tqL0tIcvDk
Boston guard Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field. The Pacers’ leading scorer came off the bench. Guard Tyreke Evans bucketed 19 points and was 4-of-6 from three-point land.
Celtics’ Offensive Success Hinges on Jaylen Brown
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Before Irving closed things out, Game 3 belonged to Brown.
While the 22-year-old has now reached the 20-point mark nine times in his postseason career, per Celtics Stats, Friday night marked his first 20-point performance of these playoffs. The 2016 No. 3 overall pick was on fire, not missing a field goal until 4:44 remained in regulation.
NBA TV @NBATV
Jaylen Brown dropped 23 PTS on 8-9 shooting to help lead the @celtics to the Game 3 victory! Boston leads series 3-0. ☘️
#Celtics | #NBAPlayoffs https://t.co/rynvTBRFTi
In first two games of the series, Brown scored eight points combined and did not make a three-pointer. On Friday, he was 4-of-5 from three-point range.
While Game 3 saw the 6’7″, 220-pound guard show up more in the box score, Brown made a critical play in Game 2 that aided in the C’s 99-91 victory.
With just under a minute remaining, Indiana led 91-89. Brown grabbed a defensive rebound before finding a wide-open Jayson Tatum for a three-pointer to give Boston the lead with 50.8 left to go.
Boston Celtics @celtics
Tonight’s Play of the Game is a spectacular glimpse at the team-oriented play that stole the game away from Indiana late in the fourth! https://t.co/PxrYCplGxb
“It started with Jaylen’s kick out in transition, which is one of the best plays I’ve ever seen him make,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said, according to Greg Dudek of SB Nation’s Celtics Blog. “I told him after the game, I’m so happy for him.”
On Thursday, the Boston Herald published an article by Mark Murphy that examined Brown’s growth. In it, Brown commented on the high standards he’s held to: “That’s where series change, games change, I’ve got to hang my hat on defense, whether it’s boxing out, guarding 4s, 2s, some of the ugly possessions. We have guys who can score the ball. We need guys who can grit their teeth and make plays and make things happen in the fourth quarter.”
If Brown can combine his performance from Game 2 with his breakout in Game 3, it will certainly help build confidence in a team that has chronically struggled to close games out all season long.
Evans Must Provide Spark for Pacers to Have Chance
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The Pacers were trailing 49-35 at the 8:28 mark in the second quarter before surging to a 61-59 halftime lead on a 26-10 run. Evans was responsible for a large portion of that comeback, combining with forward Thaddeus Young for 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the second frame.
Tyreke Evans gets out to 15 1st half PTS for the @Pacers! #GoldDontQuit #NBAonABC https://t.co/PP4uLu1G0L
Indiana had struggled to garner offense in stretches through the first two games of this series, and the squad’s spark Friday night came from Evans off the bench. While that may seem unlikely, it is not unprecedented for these Pacers.
The Pacers are 10-3 this season when Evans scores at least 15 points, according to NBC Sports Boston’s A. Sherrod Blakely, and the only East team to beat them in that scenario is Boston. In Game 3, the 2009 No. 4 overall pick hit the 15-point mark in the first half in just 11 minutes.
On Jan. 9, the Pacers lost 135-108 to the Celtics when Evans scored 15 points. While Indiana still lost, the difference between that game and Friday night’s can be seen from beyond the arc.
The 29-year-old shot 4-of-6 from three, while he shot 2-of-6 in January. Evans shot 35.6 percent from three in the regular season. When Evans is firing from long range, Indiana has a better chance of getting into an offensive flow.
That said, the Pacers are in an undesirable hole. Given that Indiana had long scoring droughts in Games 1 and 2 and then couldn’t pull off the victory in Game 3 after Evans got going, hope is bleak. However, if the Pacers are going to pull off what seems to be the impossible, Evans is going to have to continue to play inspired basketball.
Game 4 will tip off Sunday at 1 p.m. ET from Indianapolis and will be broadcast on ABC. The Celtics can clinch the first-round series and get some rest before facing either the Milwaukee Bucks or Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.