Community Shootaround: Celtics/Pacers Series

The two teams that will square off in the Eastern Conference finals this spring have benefited from some injury luck in recent weeks.

After dominating the Eastern Conference during the regular season, the Celtics were rewarded with a first-round matchup against a Heat team missing Jimmy Butler and a second-round series against a Cavaliers squad playing without its starting center (Jarrett Allen) for all five games, as well as its leading scorer (Donovan Mitchell) for the last two.

The Pacers have also defeated a pair of foes missing key players during this postseason. Indiana’s first-round victory came against a Milwaukee team that was playing without two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and its second-round win came against the Knicks, who didn’t have Julius Randle, Bojan Bogdanovic, OG Anunoby, and Mitchell Robinson available for most or all of the series.

Teams can only beat the opponents in front of them, so I’m not here to run down either of the East’s two clubs left standing. But if the two teams avoid injuries going forward, this series will represent a new challenge for the Celtics and Pacers.

Of course, the challenge is a more daunting one for the Pacers, who weren’t supposed to be here. Indiana’s over/under for 2023/24 last fall was 38.5 wins. And while the Pacers got off to a strong start, added Pascal Siakam via trade, and comfortably surpassed that win total, they weren’t exactly dominant during the regular season. If not for a victory in their 82nd game, they would’ve been a play-in team. They ranked a modest 10th in the NBA in net rating (+2.9) and just 24th in defensive rating (117.6). They’ll enter this series as major underdogs (+600, per

The Celtics, meanwhile, posted the third-best regular season net rating in NBA history (+11.7), finishing with the league’s No. 1 offensive rating (122.2) and No. 2 defensive rating (110.6). They wobbled slightly in both playoff series, losing Game 2 at home to both the Heat and Cavaliers, and perhaps weren’t quite as dominant against opponents ravaged by injuries as Boston fans would’ve liked to see. But it’s not like they were in any real danger in either round — the Celtics’ +12.8 postseason net rating is even better than their regular season mark.

Still, there are reasons to believe this series could be a competitive one. For one, Boston is still missing Kristaps Porzingis, who was out for the second round due to a calf strain. The latest updates on Porzingis suggest he could return at some point in the Eastern Conference finals, but likely not for either of the first two games at home. As long as he remains on the shelf, the Celtics will miss Porzingis’ rim protection against a Pacers offense that was the NBA’s second-best during the regular season and has been the league’s top unit during the playoffs.

As Jay King and Jared Weiss detail for The Athletic, the Pacers’ bench has been a real strength in the team’s first two postseason series. T.J. McConnell has been impressive leading a second unit that also features sharpshooter Ben Sheppard (.474 3PT% in 13 playoff games) and Obi Toppin (11.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG in just 19.0 MPG). The Celtics have good depth too, but their second unit isn’t quite as strong with Al Horford moved into the starting lineup in place of Porzingis.

King and Weiss also point out that the Pacers would benefit from being able to control the pace in the series. Only the Wizards played at a faster pace than Indiana during the regular season, while Boston ranked in the bottom half of the league in that category — and ranks dead last during the playoffs.

We want to know what you think. Do you see the Pacers pulling off another upset, or is this where their Cinderella run ends? Will Porzingis’ availability – or lack thereof – be a deciding factor, or can the Celtics win this series without him? Do you expect the winner of this series to be the NBA’s 2024 champion?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts and predictions on the Eastern Conference finals!

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