BOSTON — The Celtics were pushed to their limit, physically and mentally, before escaping a fiesty Pacers team in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at TD Garden on Tuesday night.

After opening up the series with an aggressive 12-0 run, Indiana clawed back to turn a potential blowout into a convincing bid at stealing Game 1 from Boston. It wasn’t pretty, but a playoff win is a playoff win, and the Celtics have plenty to hold their heads high from after earning a 1-0 series lead, which required an extra five minutes of high-intensity basketball.

“Nothing other than what I expected,” Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said after Boston’s 133-128 overtime win. “Two high-level teams competing for a great opportunity. So I expect all the games to be like that and its gonna be more of that. I thought both teams competed at a high level. For us, our guys — obviously we weren’t perfect, we can get better — but I thought we maintained a level of poise, a level of mental toughness and just continue to work through some of the mistakes.”

Here are three takeaways from Celtics-Pacers Game 1:

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1. Boston’s mental strength appeared just in time
In a panic mode situation, Boston didn’t panic.

The Celtics had more time than any other team playing in the conference finals to rest and stay fresh, but Indiana ruled out any chance of the Boston walking off the court to a “Gino Time” win. Indiana stuck around until the very end and cornered Boston, which caused some fair-weather fans in attendance to make their premature exits and miss out on what the team had in store.

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Once Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton turned over the ball as the Celtics trailed, 117-114, with 27.1 seconds in regulation, Boston sensed an opportunity. Fast forward just over 20 seconds later and Jaylen Brown drained an unbelievable game-tying 3-pointer, sending Game 1 into overtime to reward the team’s tenacity with new life.

“It definitely was a battle and we know what type of team they are,”Jrue Holiday said. “They’re never gonna give up and we’ve seen that, not only during the year, but especially through their playoff run. Just trying to be as consistent as possible on the boards and trying to stop them in transition.”

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2. Jaylen Brown wasn’t willing to settle for mediocrity in the conference finals, and that was backed from the jump
After the Celtics laid an egg in Game 2 of the conference semifinal round to the Cavaliers, Brown stepped up as the spokesperson of accountability.

“Defensively, it was an unacceptable performance,” Brown said after Cleveland evened up the series, 1-1. “I think that’s where we look at that and I’m the most upset, and defensively we gave up 118 points. Then on top of that, we lost the rebound battle so we didn’t help ourselves tonight.”

Boston’s first points of the night came off a vicious poster-worthy dunk that instantly gave the crowd its most energy shown throughout the playoffs.

Brown didn’t rely on the outside shot to add to Boston scoring output, understanding the importance of maintaining an efficient offensive momentum, although when needed, a clutch equalizer was in the bag.

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“Everybody was thinking the game was lost but when that shot goes in, now we got an opportunity again. That gave us a little bit of life,” Brown said. “I think that’s fair to say. And we found a way to close it in OT.”

3. Aaron Nesmith wasn’t welcomed back with open arms in Boston
Matching up with the Pacers allowed ex-Celtics draftee Aaron Nesmith (14th overall in 2020) to return on enemy lines to Boston and square off against a few former teammates.

Yet, there were no hugs or smiles between Nesmith and the Celtics. Nesmith submitted his bid at Boston’s third postseason enemy, following the footsteps of Miami’s Caleb Martin and Cleveland’s Max Strus.

In the second quarter, Nesmith connected on a layup and dropped the ball right in front of Jayson Tatum’s chest, attempting to show up the Celtics star — and that wasn’t all. During the final minute of the third quarter, Nesmith drained a 3-pointer, cutting Boston’s lead to 92-88, then walked directly up to Brown and stared the three-time All-Star down.

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Nesmith finished with a game-high in boos while scoring 14 points in 40 minutes, proving once again, to be a minor threat if any at TD Garden.

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images