PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; Pacers lead 3-0.
The Indiana Pacers say it won’t be easy to win Game 4 and complete a sweep of their first-round playoff series.
Even the Boston Celtics might have trouble believing them.
The Pacers try to finish off what has been a one-sided series when the teams meet Sunday in Boston.
With Indiana owning the NBA’s best record at 61-21 and Boston finishing 10 games under .500, it was obvious which was the better team entering this series.
The Pacers may not have realized how much better they would be. The Celtics don’t seem surprised.
“They are a much more talented team than us,” Celtics star Paul Pierce said. “We are playing the best team in the NBA. Record-wise they have all the pieces, they are well-coached, they have a defense. They are just showing our youth, just showing our immaturity.”
After winning the first two games at home, Indiana went to Boston and handed the Celtics their worst home loss ever in the playoffs with a 108-85 victory.
“Right now, at this point in time, as a statement of fact, we are just not a mature enough basketball team to handle a team of this caliber,” Celtics coach John Carroll said.
It was the easiest win of the series for the Pacers, who have an average victory margin of 17.3 points. Indiana is limiting Boston to under 41 percent shooting and has five players averaging in double figures—including three reserves.
The play of the reserves has been one of the biggest keys to the series. Indiana got 58 points from its bench—compared to 54 from Boston’s starters— in Game 3 after outscoring the Celtics 43-11 in bench points in Game 2.
The other big key is the Pacers’ defense on Pierce, led by Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest. Pierce is averaging 18.7 points, but he scored 27 in Game 2 when Artest was serving a suspension. In the two games Artest has played, Pierce has averaged just 14.5 points on 9-of-35 shooting (25.7 percent).
Pierce scored a career playoff-low nine points Friday, shooting 4-for-17. He is shooting only 30.2 percent from the field.
“As much as I’d like to think that we’re preventing him from making shots, we’ve been fortunate that he’s missed a lot of ones that he normally makes,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “Obviously we’re going to do everything we can to make it tough on him, but he’s a guy that we obviously have huge respect for and we know he’s going to be coming out like a warrior in Game 4.”
One more win ends the Pacers’ streak of three straight first-round exits and puts them in the second round for the first time since they reached the NBA Finals in 2000. If that win comes Sunday, the Celtics will have been swept in consecutive series for the first time in their proud history.
Boston lost to New Jersey in four games in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals.
“There is no way the Boston Celtics should be ever getting swept,” Pierce said. “This is one of the best franchises in all of basketball.”
Even though they have won by 16, 13 and 23 points, the Pacers know it won’t be easy to get that win Sunday. The last time they led a series 3-0, they lost the next two games before finishing off Philadelphia in six games in the 2000 East semifinals.
“We know the hardest thing to do is to close out a series, whether you’re up 3-0 or in a seventh game,” Carlisle said. “It’s going to be important that we come out and we continue to get better at playing our game and make it so that Boston doesn’t get back on a plane and come back to Indiana for a Game 5.”
If a fifth game is necessary, it would be Thursday night in Indianapolis.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Pacers - 1st seed. Celtics - 8th seed.
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