BOSTON, MA — The Boston Celtics had done their best to avoid a last-second thriller in the 2024 NBA Playoffs, but that wasn't going to last forever. Instead of taking care of business early on against the Indiana Pacers, the C's clutched up and prevailed 133-128 in overtime to take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston led by as much as 13 points late in the third quarter, yet Indiana roared back to make it a one-point contest heading into the final frame. The Pacers used that momentum to hit shot after shot and held a 117-114 advantage with 46.1 seconds left in regulation.

The Green Team never waved the white flag, though. Boston forced some timely turnovers and star Jaylen Brown nailed a corner triple to tie it up with six seconds remaining.

From there, the Celtics outscored the Pacers 16-11 in overtime.

This series opener probably should've belonged to the Pacers, however, the Celtics overcame the most adversity they've faced all postseason to steal the win. So, let's examine three takeaways from Boston's tight victory over Indiana in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Celtics showed their resiliency

Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) reacts after his three point basket sending the game into overtime against the Indiana Pacers in the fourth quarter during game one of the eastern conference finals for the 2024 NBA playoffs at TD Garden.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to their semifinal showdown with the Pacers, the Celtics only had one postseason game decided by single digits. Outside of their 109-102 win in Game 4 over the Cleveland Cavaliers, all of Boston's contests hadn't been particularly close.

This lack of a truly close victory, fair or not, was held against the Celtics. Some pundits wondered whether or not they could take over in the clutch if they'd never been “battle-tested” in the 2024 playoffs.

In Game 1 versus the Pacers, Boston proved its grit in a stunning comeback that was the definition of a late-game battle.

With only 10 ticks left in regulation, Indiana had a 97.4% chance of taking a 1-0 series lead, according to ESPN's analytics. Rather than giving up, Brown prevented the Pacers from properly inbounding the ball and then drained the game-tying triple:

One, it was just a momentum play that we was able to turn them over and get an extra possession, and that led to a great drive, Jrue made a great pass, [Derrick] White set a good screen, and the rest was history,” Brown described when asked about his big shot during his postgame presser.

The Celtics had blown multiple double-digit leads in regulation, yet they didn't let that shake their confidence when it mattered most.

Welcome to the NBA playoffs. You just got to manage your emotions, in the game anything can happen,” Brown stated. “The game is not over until the final whistle—the final buzzer sounds. That was a good example of that. We were able to turn it over a little bit towards the end. We had [Tyrese] Haliburton on the sideline, and I was able to get the deflection off of [Pascal] Siakam, that just extended the game. It's not over until it's over. We just found a way to win the game at the very end.”

Although Boston had all the momentum following Indiana's last-second collapse, there was still work to be done. During the regular season, the Celtics had a rough 2-4 record in overtime games, shooting 38% from the field during those extra periods.

On Tuesday evening, the C's shot 40% from the field in overtime while holding Indiana to just 25% from the floor. Celtics star Jayson Tatum had 10 of Boston's 16 points in the final five minutes, which nearly surpassed the Pacers' overtime point total of 11 points.

It really just felt like we had a second chance,” Tatum said of overtime in his postgame remarks. “JB gave us a second chance by hitting that shot. And we just talked about it in the huddle. ‘We got a second chance. Let’s take advantage of it. Let’s not mess around. And let’s figure out a way to win this game.'”

For all the doubts about Boston's preparedness for a hard-fought competition, the Celtics found a way to win in their toughest playoff game yet.

The Celtics stars aren't afraid to do the dirty work on defense

In the modern NBA, defense isn't that glamorous. The players who dazzle on offense typically get the most love from the media and fans. As a result, some stars don't emphasize the importance of that aspect of the game.

Thankfully for the Celtics, their stars don't typically follow this train of thought. In fact, Tatum and Brown made some of the biggest defensive plays of the night to help clinch the win.

Brown forced a pivotal turnover from Siakam and had three steals overall. Tatum also had three steals and made Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton attempt a wild 3-pointer at the end of regulation. The six combined steals from Boston's dynamic duo nearly equaled the eight steals Indiana had altogether.

Having two-way stars that are on a mission on both offense and defense is a massive boon for the Celtics. Without that, and award-winning defense from guards Derrick White and Jrue Holiday, Boston wouldn't have even made it to overtime in Game 1.

However, Indiana still managed to shoot 53.5% from the field despite the loss. Brown and company know they have work to do on that side of the ball ahead of Game 2:

I think just trying to be as consistent as possible on the boards, trying to stop them from transition. They pass the ball up so well, they move the ball so well, especially off the rebound, that sometimes it gets tough,”  he said when asked how the Celtics can slow the Pacers' efficient offense down. “But something we’ll probably go back and take a look at is transition defense.”

The Celtics will need more from their bench to counter the Pacers' depth

Boston was fortunate to escape with a 1-0 series lead, and they know they'll need to improve to triumph in this series.

The bench is particularly aware of that, because without the scoring of center Kristaps Porzingis for the time being, someone else has to step up for the Celtics.

So far, point guard Payton Pritchard has done his best to contribute off the bench. He notched eight points and two assists in Game 1 and performed well enough to get four minutes in the fourth quarter.

Besides him, Boston's bench was underwhelming in comparison to Indiana's. Pritchard, forward Sam Hauser, and center Luke Kornet combined for 13 points off the pine, while the Pacers' bench had 30 points altogether.

Hauser especially struggled, as he bricked his two attempts from deep and had to be subbed out before the end of the first half due to his poor defense. Boston will need more from its reserves if it wants to counter the Pacers, who arguably have the deepest rotation of the remaining playoff teams.

Scoring aside, Boston can't afford to have anyone off its bench be a defensive liability. Indiana already has a talented offense, so the Celtics must have all their guys defend at a high level to prevent mismatches from dooming them.

“I think come with the mindset of, ‘Don’t relax,’” Tatum said of Boston's approach for Game 2 on Thursday night. “Tonight 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. 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.”