Celtics win Game 1, but Boston looks far from convincing

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The Boston Celtics won but deserved to lose. The Indiana Pacers lost but didn’t quite deserve to win. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, which the Celtics won 133-128 in Boston Tuesday night, might be the rare contest where the winning team enters the locker room more frustrated than the losing one.

The Celtics are the better team. But, as is often the case with this group, they played Tuesday night like a team that believed it had a margin for error. They rarely attacked the rim. They spent the game going side to side. Jayson Tatum finished with a game-high 36 points, but shot just 12-for-26—and struggled until racking up 10 points in overtime.

The Celtics’ defense, meanwhile, allowed the Pacers to shoot 53.5% from the field. If not for a ridiculous, game-tying, end-of-game three from Jaylen Brown in the corner, and the Pacers turning the ball over 21 times, including a number of brutal late-game miscues, the Celtics would be walking off the floor down 0-1 and no longer in possession of home court advantage. 

 If you wanted to take a glass-half-full approach with the Pacers, then you could point to how successful they were in picking apart the Celtics’ half-court defense. A lot of that was a result of them attacking Al Horford, who looked like the lead-footed, nearly-38-year-old big that he is. Tyrese Haliburton, who led the Pacers with 25 points and 10 assists, was able to get to his spots. He and the Pacers proved that, despite what us pundits think, they’re going to be a tough out. 

But this game, and series, was about and is about the Celtics. This is a team with title hopes, and yet it continues to play beneath its talent. That worked against the Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat and Donovan Mitchell-less Cleveland Cavaliers. It will probably work against this overmatched Pacers team, too. But it won’t work in the finals, whether they face the Dallas Mavericks or Minnesota Timberwolves. At some point, the Celtics are going to have to show that they can be the best version of themselves for an entire series. They might have won Game 1, but if they play this way next round in the finals, there won’t be an inferior team on the other end ready to give the win back.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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