Jaylen Brown wins Larry Bird Eastern Conference finals MVP as Celtics sweep Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS – The shot that saved Game 1, the steal and pass that sent the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals.

That’s how Jaylen Brown won the Larry Bird trophy as most valuable player for the Eastern Conference finals.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Brown said Monday night, basking in the glow of his team’s victory with the Bird trophy next to him on the table.

“I don’t ever win s—. I was just happy we won.”

Brown, who earlier in this series learned he was not named to any of the three All-NBA teams and didn’t like it, scored a game-high 29 points to go with six rebounds, two assists and three steals in the Celtics’ 105-102 win over the Indiana Pacers in Game 4.

He was narrowly named series MVP by a panel of media members over his longtime teammate and friend, Jayson Tatum.

Brown, who averaged 29.8 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in the series, received five of a possible nine votes. The other four went to Tatum, who scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and 8 assists in Game 4 and averaged 30.3 points and 10.3 boards in the conference finals.

So when it came down to it, Brown’s clutch plays in the first and last games against the Pacers were the separating factor.

The award winner receives the trophy named after Bird, the Celtic legend. Brown (and Tatum, for that matter) can become one himself if he helps Boston win its record 18th title in a couple of weeks.

“He was unreal this whole series, a complete player on both sides of the ball that you don’t really see much these days,” said Derrick White of Brown.

White was on the receiving end of one of Brown’s game-winning (or saving, whichever you prefer) plays on Monday.

The Celtics, as they had for most of the series, were staring defeat in the face in Game 4. Indiana turned in another valiant effort without its star, Tyrese Haliburton, and the game was tied at 102 with 1:05 left.

Andrew Nembhard, so close to being a series hero for the Pacers, drove in for a would-be go-ahead lay-up, but Brown blocked it. On the ensuing possession, Brown played playmaker and drove into the lane, attracting extra attention from Indiana’s defense as he found White in the corner for what turned out to be the game-winning 3-pointer.

Brown finished Game 4 shooting 11 of 22 from the field with a team-high four 3-pointers but was much better in the second half. When Boston went to halftime with a 1-point lead, Brown was just 4-of-11 shooting.

The Celtics, for the third time in this series, overcame a sizable fourth-quarter deficit (this time, nine points with about 9 minutes left), and Brown notched 10 points in the closing quarter.

“I was playing like trash in the first half,” Brown said. “The pace was really getting to me, I felt like I was a step behind. I just needed to be a little more patient in the second half and let the game kind of come to me a little more. I was just trying to get to the basket and use my physicality, but if the game tells you to shoot a jump shot, you gotta shoot a jump shot.”

Brown’s 3 at the end of regulation in Game 1 tied the score and sent it to overtime, where Boston prevailed. He also scored 40 points in Game 2 and shot 37 percent from the field in the series.

“He’s a guy, who can’t shake him,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “He has great short-term memory. He misses a shot, it never affects the next one. I just loved his poise, his ability to attack.”

Brown narrowly escaped serious trouble for himself and his team earlier in the fourth quarter of Game 4. With 7:23 left and Indiana up six, T.J. McConnell was in the process of grabbing an offensive rebound when Brown, turning to knock the ball away, hit McConnell in the face with his hand.

McConnell dropped from the sky onto the court, rolled onto his stomach, and laid on the court for a few minutes. Upon review, lead referee Zach Zarba said “while unfortunate,” the contact Brown made didn’t rise to the level of a flagrant foul.

In a postgame interview with a pool reporter, Zarba added “Brown is following the arch of the ball, making a play on the basketball during the rebounding action. There is no wind-up and there is no follow through with the contact to McConnell.”

Instead of free throws and retaining possession, the Pacers didn’t score and Boston answered with a basket to cut its deficit to four points.

“I was just going for the ball,” Brown insisted. “The game is so fast, just trying to make a play on the ball, and I think I got him in the face a little bit. T.J. is my guy. I’ve got nothing but respect for T.J. McConnell. We talked throughout the year. We talked before the series. T.J.’s a dog.

“When I said that some of those guys turned into Michael Jordan, T.J. McConnell is who I was talking about. No harm. I got him in the face a little bit, but rub some dirt on it.”

Brown also clashed with Myles Turner — a former teammate of his on Team USA — after Turner knocked White to the floor on an offensive foul.

The Celtics will make their 23rd NBA finals appearance. This is their second finals appearance in the last three years after reaching the title round and losing to Golden State in 2022.

Boston will host Game 1 of the 2024 Finals on June 6, against the Dallas Mavericks or Minnesota Timberwolves. Dallas leads the Western Conference finals series 3-0 and can complete a sweep Tuesday night at home.

Brown, for one, is ready.

“I think I’m one of the best two-way wings, or guards, whatever you want to say, in this league,” Brown said. “This year I thought I’ve taken (my game) to (another) level, and I’ve increased it.”

Required reading

(Photo: Justin Casterline / Getty Images)

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