C's Game 3 Win Meant More Than Just a Notch in the Win Column

INDIANAPOLIS – These are the wins that build mettle – the type of mettle that prepares a team for a long postseason run.

At this point, the Boston Celtics appear to be poised to make a run into the second round of the NBA Playoffs, at the very least.

Boston took a commanding 3-0 series lead Friday night by downing the Indiana Pacers 104-96 on the road, inside an energized Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The win was quite meaningful for the Celtics, seeing as no NBA team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit. But what may be even more important is how they logged this win.

The Celtics were on the road and in the heart of a hostile environment. They stared down adversity and took Indiana’s best shot. Still, they won.

Kyrie Irving called the victory “a great step in the overall big picture” for his team. He felt that way because he and his teammates were able to withstand Indiana’s runs and break through any challenges that presented themselves throughout the game’s 48 minutes.

“It’s going to go up and down. They’re going to take the lead, we’re going to take the lead,” Irving said. “The fans are going to be into it, and you’ve just got to be able to settle in.”

That’s exactly what Boston did after the Pacers stormed back into the game and turned up the volume of its basketball-frenzied crowd during the latter half of the second quarter.

The C’s opened up the contest with red-hot shooting and a 41-point outburst during the first quarter. They built a 15-point lead during the second quarter, but that lead quickly evaporated and turned into a 61-59 deficit at halftime as Indiana caught its rhythm.

It would have been easy for a Celtics team that was consistently inconsistent throughout the regular season to give way to the Pacers and crumble in the face of adversity. Instead, Boston did the opposite.

The Celtics tightened the screws of their defense. They oiled the engine of their offense. Then they received big play after big play, from player after player.

By the final buzzer, they had secured their first road playoff victory of the postseason, on their very first attempt.

“These guys in this locker room,” Irving said, “they were kind of chomping at the bit to get their first road win out of the way.”

That’s because last postseason’s experience on the road was anything but delightful.

The Celtics did not win a single road game during their first-round series against Milwaukee, and they went 1-7 on the road overall during their run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The very first road game of their postseason was a blowout loss at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks during Game 3 of the opening round.

Boston remembers that experience vividly. Friday night, it wanted to everything possible to eliminate the possibility of it reoccurring.

“The one thing is, we do have some experience on the road. We weren’t great last year. We talked about that a lot,” said Brad Stevens. “We weren’t great in Game 3s, but we were ready to play this one.”

‘We’ was the perfect pronoun to be used by Stevens. Friday night wasn’t the Kyrie show. It wasn’t the Tatum show. This Game 3 victory was a team victory that featured impactful moments from all eight Celtics who saw extended playing time.

That matters.

“I think that the confidence is just at a very high level when we know what everyone is capable of on the floor,” said Boston’s All-Star point guard, who’s averaging 25.3 points per game for the series. “As you saw down the stretch, everyone made some big plays. They were little plays in the grand scheme if you think about it, but they were big plays: an offensive rebound here, a tip-out here, getting back in transition. Those are all the things that you need to do to really guarantee yourself a win.”

The Celtics did them all, and they did so in the face of adversity.

“This is a great stepping stone for us to be able to continue to go at the big picture,” said Irving, “and that’s just keep getting closer and closer to 16 wins.”

As the league enters Saturday, no team is closer to 16 wins than the Boston Celtics. Friday’s gutsy victory has it one victory shy of being the first team in the league to punch its ticket to the next round.

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