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Celtics-Pacers Eastern Conference Finals preview, odds and prediction

Celtics-Pacers Eastern Conference Finals preview, odds and prediction originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Eastern Conference Finals matchup is set. The Boston Celtics will take on the Indiana Pacers with a berth in the 2024 NBA Finals at stake.

This is the seventh time in playoff history that these teams will square off. All of the previous six series were in the first round, and the Celtics won four of them.

The Celtics will be well-rested entering this series. They eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the second round on May 15. They will have had five days of rest before Game 1 on Tuesday. The Pacers needed to overcome a 3-2 series deficit and win a Game 7 on the road at Madison Square Garden to eliminate the New York Knicks in the second round.

The C's are used to this stage and the pressure that comes with it. They are making their sixth conference finals appearance in the last eight years. The Pacers are in the conference finals for the first time since 2014.

The Pacers have some young players filling key roles, led by 24-year-old star Tyrese Haliburton. But this group does have some important veterans with lots of experience.

Myles Turner is in his ninth season. Pascal Siakam is in his eighth campaign and has played 66 career playoff games. He was one of the Toronto Raptors' best players during their 2019 championship run. Backup point guard T.J. McConnell is a nine-year veteran. And head coach Rick Carlisle won a title as a player (1986 Celtics) and has coached 140 playoff games. He was the Dallas Mavericks head coach when they won the 2011 NBA Finals.

The Pacers had no fear in Game 7 at MSG. They had no fear on their run to the in-season tournament championship game. You can bet they won't be afraid of the Celtics, either.

Both teams are close to full strength. The Pacers don't have any significant injuries. The Celtics reportedly won't have Kristaps Porzingis to start the series.

Here's our full preview of the conference finals, including a series prediction.

Series schedule

The Eastern Conference Finals begin Tuesday in Boston. There's just one day of rest between each game.

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Regular season head-to-head

Tale of the Tape

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The Celtics will win the series if...

They shut down Tyrese Haliburton.

There are many ways for the Celtics to win this series, but shutting down the Pacers' best player and top playmaker is a good way to start. Haliburton did not play well versus the Celtics in the regular season.

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The Pacers have lost five games in the playoffs so far. Haliburton has averaged just 15.6 points and 7.2 assists in those defeats.

The star point guard isn't an elite scorer, but he has the potential to dominate offensively if he's not defended at a high level. Haliburton dropped 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting (6-of-12 from 3-point range) in the Pacers' Game 7 win over the Knicks. He scored 34 points in Game 2 and 35 points in Game 3.

Haliburton is one of the Pacers' top scorers and the primary ballhandler. If the Celtics can make him uncomfortable and force him to defend, the Pacers' offense won't be as effective. Luckily for the Celtics, they have plenty of high-end perimeter defenders to put on Haliburton, including Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Jrue Holiday.

The Pacers will win the series if...

They shoot lights out and win a high-scoring series.

Let's be honest: The Pacers' defense is really bad. But they can score as well as any team in the league, and that's their path to an upset in this series. Indiana shot 67.1 percent Game 7 against the Knicks, which set a new playoff record for a single game.

The Pacers led the league in points scored (123.3 per game), assists (30.8 per game) and field goal percentage (50.7) during the regular season. They've been pretty potent in the playoffs, too, scoring a league-best 114.2 points per game through two rounds. Indiana also leads the postseason in field goal percentage (50.7) and in 3-point percentage (38.1).

The Pacers' offense isn't heavily reliant on one player, either. Siakam leads the way at 21.1 points per game in the playoffs, but Haliburton (18.8) and Turner (17.5) are capable of carrying the load, too. Indiana has seven players averaging 10-plus points per game in the playoffs (Boston has six).

The Celtics are a really good defensive team. But the Pacers still managed to score 116.8 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting in the five head-to-head matchups during the regular season. Indiana also played with excellent pace, averaging 97.2 shots per game.

If the Pacers are going to win this series, they'll need to push the pace and score 115-plus points per game. It's going to be a challenge, but it's certainly not an impossible mission for this group.

Odds

Sportsbooks have the Celtics as heavy favorites to win the series.

  • Celtics to win the series: -900

  • Pacers to win the series: +600

Prediction

Celtics in five.

The Celtics have the edge in talent, depth and experience. They also have home court advantage. The Pacers should not be taken lightly, but it's hard to imagine them playing the type of defense that will be required to pull off a shocking upset.