“Other” Celtics still have more work to do, but so far they have passed every test

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INDIANAPOLIS— This timea trip to the Boston Celtics’ Eastern Conference finals ended without any clamor from the crowd and press for the coach to go and, oh by the way, let’s take a wrecking ball to the roster.

This time, it ended when the Celtics emerged with a 105-102 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse to complete a sweep of the Indiana Pacers. A quick play-by-play is required here, starting with how the Celtics, who trailed most of the evening, pulled off a late 10-2 run. Jayson Tatum made it 100-100 with a driving dunk, and then, ahem, series MVP Jaylen Brown tied the score again, this time 102-102, with an 8-foot jump shot. Brown then delivered on 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 hitting a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left, this after the Celtics had rallied from an 8-point deficit with 5:56 left and trailed by 5 points with 4:14. to go.

GO DEEPER

Celtics beat Pacers to advance to NBA Finals

Yes, White’s game winner happened to come 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. Because these 2024 playoffs are not those Celtics of the 2023 playoffs, who rallied for three straight wins after losing the first three games and then being eliminated in Game 7 at TD Garden. No, these Celtics are not those Celtics at all, a point Brown made after the game when he said, “We have a different team every year, different coaches. We have had three coaches in the past five years. And yet people want to make it seem like it’s the same, it’s the same, it’s the same. Time has passed. Experience has been gained. And we are ready to put our best foot forward.”

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Brown is of course right. Just like he was right, and very, very funny, when asked if he was surprised to be named series MVP. “I didn’t expect it at all,” he says. “I never win (expletive), so…”

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GO DEEPER

Jaylen Brown wins Eastern Conference finals MVP

The bad thing is that Brown didn’t walk away with any of the individual regular season awards that many NBA fans, including an NBA fan named Jaylen Brown, thought he should have won. It’s nice to show that Brown proved his skeptics wrong with his stellar effort against the Pacers – the corner three-pointer that won 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 here it’s the same, it’s the same, it’s the same: these are the Tatum/Brown Celtics, or, for those who believe roster placement matters, the Brown/Tatum Celtics. It’s their time, their 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 — the Celtics haven’t won anything yet. There is simply no scenario in which a Celtic bust in the NBA Finals against Dallas or Minnesota turns into silver linings, life lessons or half-filled glasses. But that’s for later. For now, for today, the Celtics’ stellar work ethic must be commended.

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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 any coach at any level can use for show-and- tell when explaining that talented teams don’t win on talent alone. They also win because they are capable of old-fashioned gut checks.

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

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Much will be made about the Pacers easily passing to 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 disgruntled fans who believe Brown should have been given a blatant penalty with 7:23 left when he accidentally hit TJ McConnell in the face — hard — as the Pacer grabbed a rebound. It was judged as a common error. “We feel it was unfortunate, but it did not rise to the level of a flagrant violation,” crew chief Zach Zarba said, according to a pool report.

There is room for a mature discussion about how that piece should have been judged. Kevin McHale clothesline Kurt Rambis wasn’t, but it was a hit with her on it, even if it was accidentally delivered.

To say the Pacers should have won some 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 between his legs.

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Stop that. Really, stop it. The Celtics are now 12-2 in the playoffs. But they don’t tear everyone apart. They just happen to be the team with the best record And the best bowel checks.

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

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