in , ,

Preview: Why Boston Is a Strong Favorite to Make It to the NBA Finals Against the Pacers

Read Time:4 Minute, 30 Second

As they prepare to take on the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics will be making their sixth and third straight trip to the third round of the playoffs overall. The Celtics are positioned as heavy favorites to get to the NBA Finals following a stellar regular season and a very easy trip through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The Celtics’ Journey Here

After an unexpected loss to the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics embarked on a journey to restore their reputation going into the 2023–24 season. In response, Boston won 64 games during the regular season, a league record, and finished 14 games clear of the next closest club in the East. Their +11.7 net rating was the third-highest in NBA history, only surpassed by the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan. With a lineup that included both current and previous All-Stars, Boston had the finest top six in basketball.

During the playoffs, Boston saw minimal opposition. The Miami Heat lost to the Boston Celtics in five games during the first round as they were missing two of their most important players, Jimmy Butler and Terry Rozier. Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen, two important players for the Cleveland Cavaliers, were also absent from the conference semifinals. Once more, the Celtics won all five of their games, recording an even more remarkable net rating of +12.8.

The Pacers’ Journey Here

The Indiana Pacers’ season has been characterized by both opportunity and hardship. Tyrese Haliburton, an All-Star point guard, became an early favorite for MVP after guiding the Pacers to the final of the first-ever in-season tournament. Unfortunately, Haliburton’s season was cut short by a left hamstring injury right after Indiana acquired Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, a two-time All-NBA player. The Pacers overcame these obstacles to win 47 games and rank second in the league in terms of offensive efficiency (120.5 points per 100 possessions) at the end of the regular season.

The Pacers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo in six games during their first-round playoff matchup. Damian Lillard was also absent for two of the Bucks’ games. The New York Knicks were defeated by Indiana in seven games in the second round, even though they were without important players like Josh Hart and Julius Randle and had injuries to Jalen Brunson.

Head to Head

Boston defeated Indiana 3-2 in the regular-season series. It’s hard to infer anything from these games, though, because the first four took place prior to Indiana acquiring Siakam. Hot shooting from beyond the arc helped the Pacers win their two games, but important players Bruce Brown, Bennedict Mathurin, and Buddy Hield are out of this series.

For their first defeat to Indiana, the Celtics were without Jayson Tatum, and for their second loss, they were without Kristaps PorziŇĖis. A strained right calf will prevent PorziŇģis from playing in the first two games of the conference finals, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Tyrese Haliburton vs. Boston’s Guards: Match to Watch

This season, Haliburton’s performance versus Boston has been inconsistent. He had a stellar quarterfinal performance in an in-season competition, finishing with 26 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists, and no turnovers. But in three more games versus Boston, his statistics fell off a cliff. Both All-Defensive guards Derrick White and Jrue Holiday have had success stopping Haliburton, with White being especially successful in this regard.

The guards in Boston will try to lessen Haliburton’s influence on the explosive Pacers attack. In pick-and-roll scenarios, Indiana will probably go for Al Horford. However, Boston can thwart this by having Jayson Tatum go to Myles Turner while Horford is hidden elsewhere. Indiana will need Haliburton’s ability to take advantage of holes early in the shot clock.

The Celtics will also pursue Haliburton defensively. He could become less offensively quick if you force him to play defense. Holiday and White have both demonstrated their ability to be forceful and successful, further taxing Haliburton, who is 24 years old.

Poise by Pascal Siakam is the biggest X-Factor

During the regular season, Boston’s All-Star wings, Jaylen Brown and Tatum, have been quite successful versus Indiana, averaging a combined 60 points per game. It will be important how Siakam plays defense against Tatum and Brown. In their few meetings during the regular season, Siakam stopped Tatum to just two points on five shots, while Brown was more effective against him.

Although Siakam has averaged 20.1 points in the playoffs, his defensive assignment against Boston’s explosive pair will be his most difficult since the 2020 Eastern Conference semifinals. It will be crucial for Indiana that he can provide offensive support while slowing down one of Boston’s top players.

Schedule: Celtics in five

The Celtics are strong favorites because of their depth and postseason experience. While the Pacers are making their first conference finals trip in ten years, Boston has been on this stage several times in previous years. Even with Siakam’s championship background, there remains a big experience gap.

Among the remaining playoff teams, Indiana’s defense is the worst, and Boston’s offense was the best in the regular season. These elements together with Boston’s experienced rotation point to the Celtics winning in five games to reach the NBA Finals.

What do you think?

Walmart releases the Proxy Statement and 2024 Annual Report.

Live updates on CEO Satya Nadella’s announcements from Microsoft Build 2024