INDIANAPOLIS — The signs adorned the arena and every t-shirt hung over every seat in Bankers Life Fieldhouse before Friday night’s Game 3.
“Gold don’t quit,” they read.
Grammatical issues aside, that may be true. But after the Celtics’ 104-96 Game 3 victory, the gold-clad Pacers could be fired as soon as Sunday afternoon.
he Celtics proved they could deal with their foe in the first two games of this first round series and on into the first quarter here Friday night.
But the question remained as to whether they could survive themselves.
They ultimately did, but they took a circuitous route through the Indiana night, going from 15 up to five down to seven up to a two-point game with five minutes left.
The Bostonians didn’t get to safety until after Kyrie Irving had hit Al Horford for a pair of jumpers, the first a 3-pointer, and the Pacers had run out of whatever limited offensive gas they had left in their tank.
In the end, it was, for the Celtics, good enough. And that’s all that really mattered as they left the floor and looked ahead to the chance to close this series out and move on to what would no doubt be a date with Milwaukee — an opponent against whom the Celtics won’t so easily be forgiven their lulls.
Perhaps the early going was too easy for the Celtics. But it wasn’t as if the Pacers’ grit should have come as any surprise to the C’s. This team, after all, had hustled to remain in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff seeding after losing its best player, Victor Oladipo.
Yet the Celtics still flirted with disaster after rolling out to a large early lead, even though they’d said just days before that Golden State blowing a 31-point advantage and losing Game 2 to the Clippers had scared them straight.
But they didn’t play smart enough offensively or hard enough at the other end of the floor while Indiana was making the counterpunch you just knew was coming.
It was as if they were given the option of doing this the easy way or the hard way and replied, “Dude, I mean, have you watched us this season?”
The game may have been hard to fathom at times, but it was utterly 2018-19 Celtic.
In one breath, they showed the kind of precision and depth that had them ticketed for a deep playoff run.
In the next breath, they showed why they’re so hard to trust.
The evening didn’t begin so well for the Celtics. An Aron Baynes missed 3-pointer, a Horford foul leading to one of two free throws by Myles Turner, a Baynes turnover and a Bojan Bogdanovic layup.
Brad Stevens has called quick timeouts before, but he felt no need just a stumbling minute into this one. And his faith — or, rather, lack of overt anger — was rewarded. The Celtics scored the next nine points, evidently choosing to avoid falling behind by eight, as they’d done in the opening period of the first two games.
Here they scored 41 points in the frame and led by as many as 15 before settling for a 13-point edge.
Life was good for the Celtics. The Pacer patrons would release a collective groan with each 3-pointer the visitors would drain. And the C’s hit a bunch of them. Ten times they set up beyond the arc and launched. Eight times the shot found the strings.
The Pacers shot 52.6 percent from the floor in the first quarter and were still left in the Green dust.
Soon the Celtics would restore the 15-point cushion, and they were hitting enough to keep Indiana from getting any ideas. Then the C’s began hitting just iron, and the clanging became the soundtrack to a Pacer comeback.
And if you’d forgotten the fact the Shamrocks had 12 times this season given up double figure leads and lost, well, here was a bad reminder for your Good Friday.
The spread was at a dozen, 52-40, when the C’s surrendered 12 straight points. Irving gave them back the lead with a trey, and Gordon Hayward stuck a 15-footer, but the Pacers outscored them, 9-2, on the way to halftime.
No matter how much the Celtics might have wanted to put this job to rest early with Game 4 just 38 hours away, they would not be able to punch out until they’d worked a full shift.