With script flipped, Celtics hope to close out Pacers in Game 4

Celtics fight back to take commanding 3-0 series lead over Pacers (3:30)

The Celtics dig deep from 18 points down to secure a 114-111 Game 3 victory over the Pacers on the road. (3:30)

INDIANAPOLIS -- A year ago, the Boston Celtics found themselves in a 3-0 hole in the Eastern Conference finals -- only to then win three straight games and nearly pull off a historic comeback.

So, while the Celtics now find themselves on the precipice of advancing to the NBA Finals for a second time in three years after escaping Game 3 with a victory over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday, Boston is aware that its work is far from over heading into Game 4 on Monday night.

"The numbers are literally flipped," coach Joe Mazzulla said when asked what he and the Celtics can take away from last year's experience. "But I think that's a situation ... when you're in any situation, sometimes you find out why you're in it a day later, a week later, a month later, sometimes a year later.

"So, I think it's more important to just focus on the position we were in last year, what can we learn from that? And I think the position we're in now it's, 'OK, that's why we had to go through what we had to go through, was to gain the experience, gain the mindset, gain the pain, all the things that went into that,' and try to use it for this. And that doesn't mean anything other than we have to have the humility and the perspective to understand what we've been through and try to use it to get to where we want to go."

Where Boston wants to go is back to the NBA Finals. The Celtics have fallen short of getting there several times lately, advancing to the East finals in five of the previous seven seasons but making the NBA Finals only in 2022.

This season, though, the Celtics have been the NBA's dominant team from the start. Boston won a league-leading 64 games, had a historic net rating of plus-11.7 points per 100 possessions and finished first in offensive rating and second in defensive rating.

The Celtics have followed that up by mowing through the competition in the playoffs, posting a net rating of 11.4 through 13 games along with an 11-2 record -- impressive numbers, although Boston has faced the Miami Heat without Jimmy Butler, the Cleveland Cavaliers without Jarrett Allen and Donovan Mitchell and the Pacers now without Tyrese Haliburton.

Indiana coach Rick Carlisle declined to give details about Haliburton's status for Game 4, but he made it clear the Pacers did not intend for the next game to be a crowning ceremony for Boston. Upon hearing the NBA was making logistical preparations for a trophy presentation for Monday night should the Celtics wrap up the series, Carlisle called for the Pacers to use that as motivation.

"That's something that should make our players' blood boil and our fans' blood boil," he said Sunday. "It's just another layer of motivation to extend the series."

The Pacers led by as many as 18 points in Game 3 with Haliburton watching from the sidelines after aggravating the left hamstring injury that bothered him in early January, and Carlisle promised after the game that night that Indiana would come at Boston even harder on Monday to keep their season alive.

"Closeout games are always the hardest," Celtics guard Derrick White said. "We don't expect them to lay down and quit, but you just got to be a little bit better. You got to execute a little better. You got to compete a little bit more. Then they're playing for their season, so definitely going to be a challenge. Any playoff series, anything can change in one game, so it's going to be a big one."

As Boston seeks to wrap up the series Monday, its focus from a defensive standpoint is trying to thwart Indiana's 2-point shooting. Over the first three games, the Pacers shot 48-for-88 on 2-pointers beyond 8 feet, per Second Spectrum tracking data -- a 55% clip, which would be the second-best mark by a team in a playoff series over the past 10 seasons.

Both Jaylen Brown and Mazzulla said after Saturday's game that some of Indiana's shooting is simply a credit to the Pacers, with Brown joking that "some of those guys turned into f---ing Michael Jordan or whatever." A major concern for Boston is NBA.com's data showing Indiana shooting a blistering 74% in the restricted area (52-for-70) in the series.

One thing that could help Boston's rim defense is the return of Kristaps Porzingis, but that won't happen by Game 4. The 7-foot-3 center, who has been out for nearly four weeks since suffering a calf strain in Game 4 of Boston's first-round series victory over the Heat, has been ruled out for Monday's game.

ESPN's Jamal Collier contributed to this report.