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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Celtics and Pacers will try to overcome bad habits heading to Game 2 of East finals

    Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) and guard Derrick White (9) celebrate Tuesday after defeating the Indiana Pacers in overtime of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo)

    Boston — There was a dominant refrain ringing in Jayson Tatum’s head following the Celtics’ comeback 133-128 overtime win over the Pacers to open the Eastern Conference finals.

    “Don’t relax,” he said.

    In each of the previous two rounds, Boston opened its series with Miami and Cleveland with lopsided victories, only to then lose Game 2.

    The Pacers have experienced the opposite, dropping Game 1 in Rounds 1 and 2 and then having to regroup to overtake Milwaukee and New York.

    Tyrese Haliburton’s takeaway from Indiana’s latest Game 1 setback against the East’s top seed? Be disappointed. But don’t fret.

    “We know we can play with these guys,” Haliburton said. “There’s a lot of people out there saying we don’t belong here. We don’t really care. We know we belong.”

    What’s clear is that how both teams adjust for Game 2 on Thursday night will set the tone for the balance of this series.

    Recent history aside, the similarities between the Celtics and Pacers were on display throughout Game 1.

    Both teams thrived offensively this season and did so again, combining for 261 points Tuesday night. It was the highest scoring game of this postseason and the most in a conference finals game since Boston and Detroit totaled 264 in Game 4 of the 1987 East finals.

    What was also on display were both teams’ vulnerabilities. Indiana exploited Boston’s weakened interior defense throughout, racking up 56 points in the paint. But the Celtics ultimately prevailed, benefiting from a myriad of mistakes by a young Pacers team short on playoff experience.

    Haliburton had two key turnovers to help the Celtics rebound from a five-point deficit in the final two minutes of regulation. First, he dribbled off his foot as he was bringing the ball up the floor with less than 30 seconds remaining in a three-point game. He also fumbled the ball out of bounds with just over a minute to play in OT.

    The two miscues were part of 22 turnovers on the night for a Pacers team that came in averaging fewer than 12 per game in these playoffs.

    It’s part of the growing pains Indiana coach Rick Carlisle expected his youth-heavy team would have to endure during this playoff run.

    “You have to go through it to really experience what it’s all about,” Carlisle said. “We try to help prepare them for those experiences. But there’s nothing like going through it.”

    Likewise, Boston learned in Game 1 that it can expect to continue to be pushed by an underdog Pacers team that has the depth to keep up with the Celtics.

    Indiana got the usual contributions of Haliburton, Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner, who combined for 72 points. But the Pacers also got a huge lift from reserves Obi Toppin (15 points) and T.J. McConnell (13 points), who helped Indiana’s reserve outscore its Boston counterparts 30-13.

    It’s yet another wrinkle that makes the Pacers a hard team to prepare for, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said.

    “With their ability to play different lineups, the way they sub — they sub two or three different guys at a time. They are willing to go away from sub patterns for certain guys,” Mazzulla said. “You have to be wary of going to any and everything at any particular time. ... Anything is on the table versus a team like this because of their versatility.”

    Tatum is expecting both teams to play with renewed confidence in Game 2.

    “(Game 1) being a close game going into overtime they certainly feel like they probably should have won. And we feel like we can play a lot better,” he said. “So, I’m excited for us to come out and respond. And just do a better job of protecting home court than we have done recently.”

    Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner, left, drives against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown during the third quarter of Game 1 Tuesday in Boston. (Charles Krupa/AP Photo)
    Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum reacts as time winds off the clock in overtime of Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday. (Charles Krupa/AP Photo)

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