Monday, May 20, 2024

Celtics vs Indiana Pacers Eastern Conference Finals preview

The Celtics will square off with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals beginning Tuesday night at TD Garden.

Boston went 3-2 (including an In-Season Tournament loss) against the Pacers in the regular season but only one of those games was after Indiana acquired All-Star forward Pascal Siakam.

Kristaps Porzingis is expected to remain out for at least the first two games of the East Finals due to a right calf soleus strain, per NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski. However, there is optimism for Porzingis to return later in the series, according to coach Joe Mazzulla that the seven-footer is in a "great place" in terms of his rehab.

This may be another series where the Celtics do not necessarily need Porzingis in order to win (with Al Horford stepping up in the second round), as Indiana has generally been a weak defensive team, ranking 24th on defense in the regular season and currently rank fourth worst on defense among all 16 playoff teams.

The Pacers run a fast paced, high flying style of offense. They like to get out in transition and get their shots early in the shot clock, whether it's a make or a miss on the other end. That posed somewhat of a challenge to their previous opponent, the New York Knicks, who like to play slower. This series however, is not as much a clash of styles, as the Celtics are at their best when they play fast and Indiana is not a team that is going to bog an opponent down. Boston should be able to match the Pacers run and gun method in this best-of-7 with the likes of Jaylen Brown (23.1 points, 6.6 rebounds) and Derrick White (18.2 points, 3.8 assists).

The biggest key in this series will likely be whether or not the Pacers can actually stop Boston's offense. As mentioned before, the Pacers have not been a strong defensive team in the regular season nor the playoffs. The Celtics will almost certainly look to put Tyrese Haliburton (18.8 points, 8.1 assists and 5.0 rebounds) in action, as they did against Darius Garland in their series against the Cavaliers. The Pacers will be forced to make decisions on how much they want to switch those actions, and where they have to place Myles Turner (17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds). 

Expect to see Haliburton guarding Jrue Holiday (10.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists) to start the series, so the Celtics will look to use Holiday as a screener a good deal. Jayson Tatum averaged 32.5 points on nearly 58% from the field against the Pacers in the regular season. The Pacers will likely stick Siakam (21.4 points, 7.5 rebounds) on Tatum for a good portion of the series in order to try to slow down the C's All-NBA wing.

Defensively, it will be an interesting series for the Celtics, as the Pacers boast the best offensive rating of the playoffs due to their deep bench, fast pace, and shot-making capabilities. In previous matchups against Indiana, the Celtics have actually used their centers in a multitude of different defensive coverages. That includes deploying Holiday as the five man and the quarterback of their 2-1-2 zone defense. Expect to see coach Mazzulla draw up more funky coverages for this series, and keep an eye on how the Celtics use their centers.
"They're obviously one of the fastest playing teams and do a great job of getting out in transition, forcing cross matches," Mazzulla said Monday. "That's where the test comes in. Number one, get back in transition initially, and then also in the half court. Our individual defense has to be disciplined, our weak side defense has to be disciplined, and reading how much we have to help."
The Celtics host the Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals tomorrow night at 8:00 pm ET on ESPN.

Eli Weisberger

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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