|Pacers take 'do-or-die' mindset into Game 4 vs. Celtics|
The Indiana Pacers will seek to avoid their second four-game first-round playoff defeat in three years when they host the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference series on Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis.
The fourth-seeded Celtics suffocated the Indiana offense for the third consecutive time Friday night en route to a 104-96 road win that put them up 3-0 in the best-of-seven.
The Pacers were swept 4-0 by the Cleveland Cavaliers in first round in 2017.
Meanwhile, Boston will be attempting to complete its first 4-0 triumph since whitewashing the New York Knicks in the first round in 2011.
Each team has recorded a playoff sweep over the other in the past. The Celtics won 3-0 in the first round in 1992, before the Pacers turned the tables in a 4-0 triumph in the first round in 2004.
Kyrie Irving made most of the big plays down the stretch in Game 3 that dug the fifth-seeded Pacers' big hole.
He had two baskets, two assists and two free throws in the final 5:53 as the Celtics kicked their overall play into high gear after the Pacers had closed within 88-87.
"Now that the stakes are at their highest, the pressure or whatever you want to call it, I feel like we are settling into who we really want to be," Irving insisted to reporters afterward. "And that's just an overall great team with everybody ready to play. It could be anyone's night."
That surely was the case in Game 3, when four Celtics starters scored 16 or more points and three reserves combined for an additional 26 points in the win.
Of course, it hasn't just been about the offense. The Celtics have held the Pacers to 96 or fewer points in all three games and limited them to 42.0-percent shooting in Game 3.
Indiana coach Nate McMillan hopes there's still time to turn things around.
"I've been asked a lot this season, 'Is it a big game tomorrow?' Sunday is a big game," he assured after Friday's loss. "It's do-or-die for us. It's as simple as that."
Playing without injured star Victor Oladipo, the Pacers have not responded well to big games down the stretch.
With home-court advantage on the line in the first round of the anticipated matchup with the Celtics, Indiana was 44-25 on March 15 and two games up on its rival.
However, the Pacers have since fallen apart, first by going 4-9 down the stretch of the regular season to allow the Celtics to pass them despite winning just seven of 13 games.
Boston swept a pair from Indiana in the final two weeks, 114-112 at home and later 117-97 on the road.
Defense was the issue then, with Indiana allowing 11 of its 13 opponents to score 102 or more points. The Celtics averaged 115.5 in the two high-stakes meetings.
But offense has been the Pacers' biggest problem in the postseason, as they've lost three games by a total of 26 points despite limiting the Celtics to an average of just 95.7.
If a Game 5 is necessary, it would be played Wednesday at Boston.
--Field Level Media