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Celtics-Pacers: Schedule, how to watch, predictions & analysis

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Jayson Tatum and the top-seeded Celtics meet a young and upcoming Pacers squad in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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Back in the day, a coach in Rick Carlisle’s position might have given his team a little pep talk — Pat Riley-style — about packing “three suits, three shirts, three ties” as it headed to New York for Sunday’s Game 7 against the Knicks. After all, winning Sunday meant Indiana had to fly directly to Boston for Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, beginning Tuesday (8 ET, ESPN).

No longer applicable: Suits and ties on the sideline went out with the COVID-caused Orlando “bubble.” One or two sets of fleece wear can carry a coach through an entire postseason, which just got longer for Carlisle and his players.

The Pacers qualified for their first East Finals since 2014. They began the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, beat Milwaukee, beat New York and now face the conference’s top contender. Boston enters its sixth East Finals appearance in the past eight seasons.

The Celtics won the season series with Indiana, 3-2, facing the Pacers five times due to the In-Season Tournament. Boston outscored Indiana by an average of 129.0 to 116.8 points per game — the Pacers’ biggest deficit (-12.2) against any opponent.

And don’t overreact to Indiana’s crazy-hot shooting in the Game 7 clincher at Madison Square Garden. The Pacers shot 46.8% overall and 31.8% from deep against Boston in the five meetings, significant drops from their 82-game average.


Series schedule

Here’s how to watch the Celtics vs. Pacers series: 

All times Eastern Daylight Time 

Game 1: Pacers vs. Celtics, Tuesday (8 p.m., ESPN) 

Game 2: Pacers vs. Celtics, Thursday (8 p.m., ESPN) 

Game 3: Celtics vs. Pacers, Saturday (8:30 p.m., ABC) 

Game 4: Celtics vs. Pacers, May 27 (8 p.m., ESPN) 

Game 5: Pacers vs. Celtics, May 29 (8 p.m., ESPN) * 

Game 6: Celtics vs. Pacers, May 31 (8 p.m., ESPN) * 

Game 7: Pacers vs. Celtics, June 2 (8 p.m., ESPN) * 

* = If necessary


Top storyline

Haliburton vs. Boston’s defenders. Haliburton, Indiana’s point guard and floor general, was publicly pushed to up his aggressiveness against the Knicks.

It worked. He averaged 24 points on 17.5 shots in the Pacers’ four victories compared to 17.6 and 11.3 in the three defeats.

“Aggression to me isn’t shots, it’s getting two feet in the paint,” Haliburton said Sunday.

OK, but the Celtics are a different challenge entirely. Remember, Boston and Indiana ranked 1-2 offensively this season, but 2-24 defensively. Haliburton’s production dipped in the four games he played in the series: just 15.8 points on 41% shooting (vs. 20.1 and 47.7% overall).

The Knicks found a few ways to contain him until they ran out of gas and healthy-ish bodies. Boston can send a fleet of defenders, starting with All-Defensive candidates Jrue Holiday and Derrick White. Then it has Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Payton Pritchard to shuffle through.

Indiana has to keep its pace high, because the Celtics’ half-court defense could choke off Haliburton and whatever offense he tries to initiate.


Keep your eyes on

Two pesky backup point guards. If Indiana is in the building (particularly its throwback style Fieldhouse), someone is thinking of “Hoosiers,” and Pritchard and T.J. McConnell seem straight off the cast list. They both are high energy and high impact, good for 15-20 minutes of caffeine boost.

Pritchard is making 42.9% of his 3-point attempts this postseason and is the Celtics’ designated last-ditch guy to race up court or throw heaves at the end of quarters. McConnell plays a similar role with Indiana and saw his minutes and contributions rise as he locked in defensively on Knicks star Jalen Brunson.

These guys’ greatest value comes when they log minutes pestering the opponents’ key players. But if their minutes match up and they simply go at each other, that should be entertainment too. Eventually, one or the other is going to speak up in the huddle and say, “I’ll make it.”


1 more thing to watch for each team 

Could Pacers' depth provide an advantage over the top-seeded Celtics until Kristaps Porzingis returns?

For Celtics: In terms of advancing, Boston did not miss Kristaps Porzingis against Cleveland, but it did lapse into some isolation-heavy offense as a five-out team. Getting their injured center back at some point in this series could restore order and help him ramp up for a potential Finals. Size will matter more against whichever team comes out of the West. Porzingis, out since Game 5 against Miami with a right soleus (calf) strain, isn’t expected to play in Games 1 or 2 this week, but could return deeper into this series.

For Pacers: Nesmith is the Pacers’ defender who typically draws the toughest individual matchup. Tatum is Boston’s top scorer, a guy who has finished Top 6 in Kia MVP balloting the past three years and somebody taking heat lately to up his consistency as a playoff performer. There is also an additional backstory. The two were teammates for two seasons after the Celtics drafted Nesmith at No. 14 in 2020. Nesmith is also the last key piece standing for Indiana from the 5-for-1 2022 trade that sent Malcolm Brogdon to Boston. Nesmith won’t be shutting Tatum down but timely disruption and minimal fouling could help the Pacers immensely.


1 key number to know

79 — Through 10 playoff games, the Celtics have played just 79 seconds of “clutch time,” where the score was within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. Nine of their 10 games (including both of their losses) have been decided by double-digits.

Those 79 seconds of clutch time were in Game 4 of the conference semifinals in Cleveland, where the Celtics were up nine with five minutes left. The Cavs got within five three times after that, but never made it any closer, with the Celtics scoring six points on four clutch offensive possessions.

So the Celtics, while they ranked fourth in point differential per 100 clutch possessions (+15.4) in the regular season, haven’t had many tight-game reps in the postseason. Fourteen of the 16 playoff teams have had at least one game within three points in the last three minutes, with the only exceptions being Boston and its first-round opponent (Miami).

The Pacers have played four clutch games in these playoffs, winning two of the four, including playing their best in two do-or-die elimination games against New York. Tyrese Haliburton has struggled down the stretch of those four close games, shooting just 2-for-10 (including 0-for-6 from 3-point range) on clutch shots. But the Pacers scored 33 points on 22 clutch possessions as they won two of the three regular-season games against Boston that were within five points in the last five minutes.


The pick

Celtics in five. Why five? Because the Celtics demonstrated against Miami and Cleveland they cannot sweep, regardless of how heavily favored they might be. It doesn’t matter how many, anyway. Boston is the team playing under pressure here. It won 17 more games than Indiana during the season and has knocked on the door of a championship for most of the Tatum-Brown era. The Pacers, by contrast, took a nice step to 47 victories, but are just off a three-year playoff drought. In this showdown, Boston wins on experience, depth and urgency.

* * * 

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.

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