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2024 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals preview, prediction: Indiana Pacers v. Boston Celtics

Expect a lot of points when the NBA's top two offenses from the regular season meet in the Eastern Conference Finals starting Tuesday night.

Boston had the best offense in the NBA with a balanced attack led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, an offense that took and took and made more 3-pointers than any other team in the league. Indiana is a fast-paced, high-octane attack led by the brilliant passing of Tyrese Haliburton, with scorers around him at every position.

Can one team get enough stops to win? Let's break it all down.

Game 1 between the Celtics and Pacers is Tuesday, May 21, at 8:00 Eastern at the TD Garden in Boston. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

The NBA Finals tip off June 6, with the first game at the home of the team with the better regular-season record (Boston has the best record overall in the league and would have home court against anyone in the Finals).

The remainder of the NBA Finals games are: Game 2 June 9; Game 3 June 12, Game 4 June 14, Game 5 June 17, Game 6 June 20 and Game 7 June 23 (games 5-7 are if necessary).

All times are Eastern (* = if necessary).

Game 1: Pacers at Celtics, May 21 (8 ET, ESPN)
Game 2: Pacers at Celtics, May 23 (8 ET, ESPN)
Game 3: Celtics at Pacers, May 25 (8:30 ET, ABC)
Game 4: Celtics at Pacers, May 27 (8 ET, ESPN)
Game 5: Pacers at Celtics, May 29 (8 ET, ESPN)*
Game 6: Celtics at Pacers, May 31 (8 ET, ESPN)*
Game 7: Pacers at Celtics, June 2 (8 ET, ESPN)*

Boston's starting center and a key part of what makes them elite on both ends of the court, Porzingis was out for the entire previous series against Cleveland. Al Horford stepped up in his absence and had a strong series — he provides the floor spacing and defense KP does, just not at the same level anymore — but long-term, Boston is at its best with Porzingis on the court.

Porzingis will be out the first two games of this series but is reportedly close to returning from the strained calf that has sidelined him. Expect him back at some point in this series, although there is no official timeline.

If Indiana is going to pull the upset this series, Tyrese Haliburton has to be the best player on the court. He has to push the pace in transition, throw some hit-ahead passes then knock down the trail 3 if the ball comes back to him, and he has to get downhill into the Celtics defense and hit floaters over their big men.

Haliburton was slowed a little by the Knicks' physical, aggressive defense, and Boston can throw a lot more of that at him. Jrue Holiday and Derrick White make up the best defensive backcourt in the NBA, and Jaylen Brown can sometimes switch onto Haliburton. Boston will be physical and throw fresh legs at him every time down the court.

Haliburton has to rise above that and must be aggressive every game. He cannot have those games where he sets up others but fades into the background, like he did a couple of times against the Knicks (both Pacers losses). Boston is too good and too deep to get away with that against.

Indiana's defense improved after adding Pascal Siakam at the trade deadline, but even then it was average at best. Then in the playoffs the Pacers caught a break not having to face the Bucks (without Giannis Antetokounmpo) or the Knicks (without half the team, it seemed) at full strength.

Boston is healthy and deep — there is nobody in their rotation where the Pacers can hide a weak defender. Indiana is going to face hard questions, like do they double Tatum when he gets the ball and scramble behind him, or do they single cover him and Brown and just live with what happens? Expect the Celtics to target Haliburton in every pick-and-roll they can, both because he's not a great defender and because they want to wear him down to lessen his offensive impact.

Indiana wants a high-scoring shootout, so Boston will try to slow the game down. The problem for the Pacers is that the Celtics can score and win when the pace is up, too. Boston is versatile. For Indiana to win, it must play its best defense of the season.

Indiana is not a fluke — this is a quality team that earned its way to this point. They have a bright future in front of them. They also are not deep and balanced like a top-tier contender, and this is the first time on this stage for most of their core (outside Siakam and coach Rick Carlisle). This is Boston's year in the East and they should be able to handle this series.