Biggest takeaways from a chaotic Game 1 between Boston and Indiana

Tuesday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers had a little bit of everything.

There was a historic level of offense. The two teams combined for 261 points, the highest-scoring game so far this postseason and the most combined points in a conference finals game since 1987.

There were critical turnovers. The Pacers gave it away 22 times, their second most this season, but it didn’t stop the heavy underdog from overcoming multiple double-digit deficits, including a 12-0 run by the Celtics to open the game.

There were momentum-shifting shots from long range. Pacers All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton hit two of them, one from 35 feet just before halftime and another that banked off the backboard twice before beating the third-quarter buzzer.

It all led to the frantic final moments of regulation that featured multiple miscues by the Pacers, culminating in Celtics wing Jaylen Brown burying a contested corner 3-pointer that forced overtime and helped Boston pull off a 133-128 miracle win.

Now that we’re up to speed on one of the wildest games of the 2024 postseason, our NBA insiders are breaking down the biggest moments of Game 1, what could be next in Thursday’s Game 2 (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) and how to describe that wild late sequence inside Boston’s TD Garden.

What is your biggest takeaway from Game 1?

Tim Bontemps: The Celtics escaped. Boston was seconds away from falling to 15-15 at home over the past three postseasons — an inexplicable statistic for a team that lost just four times at TD Garden during the 2023-24 regular season — and dropping another game to a massive playoff underdog. And yet, Boston found a way to survive behind Brown’s game-tying 3 and the poise and presence of guard Jrue Holiday. In many ways, this was the first true playoff game Boston has played during this postseason, and Holiday delivered everything the Celtics hoped he would when they acquired him on the eve of training camp in September.

Jamal Collier: The Pacers showed they can hang with the Celtics. After Boston raced out to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter, Game 1 looked like it was headed for a blowout. But Indiana responded as it has all season, overcoming two separate double-digit deficits in the contest to take the lead both times. The Pacers showed they have a blueprint to make this a competitive series against the top-seeded Celtics, especially if Haliburton can continue shooting this well. He hit six 3-pointers in Game 1, including back-to-back buzzer-beaters, in the second and third quarters.

Chris Herring: Playoffs or not, this is going to be a wildly uptempo series — even in the closing moments, which can and should make for more chaos than we’re used to.

More importantly, we’re already seeing that Indiana is likely going to lose the free throw battle by a considerable margin in each game. During the regular season, on a per-shot-attempt basis, the Pacers sent their opponents to the line at the highest rate in the league, while the Celtics did so at the NBA’s lowest rate. That dichotomy played out in Game 1. Boston registered 30 free throws to Indiana’s 10, and Jayson Tatum had 12 attempts by himself.

What is one big adjustment we could see in Game 2?

Bontemps: Boston desperately needs to improve its defense inside the 3-point line. Indiana shot 62.5% from 2-point range in Game 1 — 66.1% at the end of regulation — as the Celtics felt the loss of 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis’ paint protection. Brown said postgame that Boston had to adjust to Indiana’s level of pace as the game wore on despite the Pacers needing to overcome a grueling seven-game series against the New York Knicks that concluded just two days prior.

Collier: The Pacers have to take care of the ball. It hasn’t been an issue for the Indy for most of this season (they averaged the second-fewest turnovers per game among playoff teams entering the conference finals), but the Pacers got careless with the ball when it mattered most at the end of Game 1. Indiana center Myles Turner said it was the first time during this playoff run he thought the team showed its age with such uncharacteristic mistakes. Whatever the cause might be, the Pacers have to hold onto the ball in Game 2 and not allow Boston to get anywhere close to the 32 points off turnovers it recorded Tuesday.

Herring: After how the Pacers pulled ahead late in Game 1, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Celtics look for a way to tighten things up defensively in clutch time — whether it’s through different switch patterns or simply playing up higher and risking leaving the rim area a bit more vulnerable, especially considering how rarely Indiana got to the free throw line.

Specifically, the Pacers carved up 37-year-old big man Al Horford from midrange in the fourth quarter and in overtime, connecting on 6 of 9 attempts when Horford was the primary defender during that stretch. That shouldn’t come as a surprise: The Pacers were the league’s most efficient midrange shooting team during the regular season.

The final moments of regulation and overtime were ____.

Bontemps: Chaotic. There were wild passes, inexplicable turnovers and wide-open shots that missed badly. It was everything that comes with the crucible of the final moments of a nip and tuck playoff game. But Brown and Holiday essentially said the same thing postgame: Boston never believed the game was over until it actually was. The Celtics might have been the only ones inside TD Garden to believe that, but they wound up being right.

Collier: Unpredictable. That game went from “close, but Boston doesn’t really look threatened here” to “wait, the Pacers are going to steal this game” to “oh my, how did the Pacers blow this?” Losing a playoff game after inbounding the ball up three points with 10 seconds remaining put the Pacers in a category with historically unlikely losers; they were the first team to drop a playoff game in such fashion since the 1997-98 campaign.

Herring: Ugly. Indiana had so many “we’ve never been here” mistakes. Haliburton lost the ball multiple times, and he waited too long to get a shot off as time expired in regulation. The Pacers forced a terrible inbounds pass late, even though they had a timeout to spare. And none of this even touches on Haliburton looking as if he was trying to commit a late intentional foul in transition, which would have given Boston two critical free throws.

In all, Indy had more than twice as many turnovers (five) as it had field goals (two) in the final 5:30 of regulation and overtime. Boston made plenty of miscues too. But as the favorite and the club with home-court advantage, the Celtics can afford that. The Pacers can’t.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this story.

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