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Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Boston Celtics vs Indiana Pacers.

After battling through the first two rounds, the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers are the surviving teams competing in the 2024 Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics defeated the  Miami Heat, without Jimmy Butler, who relied heavily on Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. The Milwaukee Bucks played the entire Pacers series without Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Damian Lillard missed two games. In the Semifinals, Donovan Mitchell's calf injury in game four against the Celtics was a game-changer in the Cleveland Cavaliers series, especially after his impressive performance in games 1-3. Julius Randle's shoulder injury in January could’ve posed a significant problem for the Pacers in the interior during their series with the New York Knicks.  

Injuries, a harsh reality of basketball, often take on a more substantial role in the playoffs due to the game's aggressive nature. The Celtics are grappling with the absence of Kristaps Porzingis, a key player, while the Pacers are missing Bennedict Mathurin, who also plays a crucial role. However, all the star players are fit and ready, setting the stage for a clash of superstar talent. In their sixth year leading the team, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are heading to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fifth time. Their team's depth has been a significant challenge for their opponents, but the Pacers boast a strong bench.

  Tyrese Haliburton has been spectacular during his playoff debut, delivering two masterful 30-point performances against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. He led the league in assists this season and officially solidified his position as one of the best point guards in the world. His arrival has transformed the Pacers, who had been struggling through a series of mediocre seasons. Now, Pacers veteran Myles Turner has the opportunity to shine in the postseason. Despite the skepticism from some NBA media, the Pacers' momentum could pose problems for the Celtics.

With the acquisition of Pascal Siakam from the Toronto Raptors, everything changed for the Pacers and skyrocketed their championship hopes. Siakam averaged 21.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists since the All-Star break, immediately becoming the 2nd option of the franchise. He will be a massive help against the Celtics with his ability to spread the floor with his jump shooting, allowing more penetration opportunities for Haliburton and Andrew Nembhard, who is a stellar talent off the bench. The 24-year-old sophomore increased his 9.2 points to 12.9 and his 3PTFG from 36.8% to 48.8% in the postseason. He’s made a similar impact as the Celtics guard Derrick White had off the bench last season.

White had outstanding performances during the first two series versus the Cavaliers and the Heat, averaging 18.2 points in the postseason. He is shooting an incredible 43% from three. On April 29th, he shot 8-15 from three; on May 7th, he shot 7-12 from three while dishing out assists as the point guard. White has developed into an offensive force since being traded from the Spurs. 

Game 1 of the series was an absolute thriller, and the Pacers proved they are worthy adversaries. Haliburton made incredible shots throughout the game and ended with 25 points and 10 assists while shooting 6-14 from three. Turner and Siakam both had 20 points and double-digit rebounds. Tatum scored 36 points, shooting 12-26 with 12 rebounds and four assists. Brown had 26 points while grabbing seven rebounds and hit the game-tieing shot that sent the game to overtime, where the Celtics won 133-128. 

The Pacers were on the doorstep of stealing Game 1 in TD Garden, but mental lapses caused the loss. Fans on Social Media blamed Siakam for the loss because of some late-game turnovers and not for contesting Brown on his game-tieing three-pointer. After the game, Haliburton answered questions from the media and had an interesting thought about the series as a whole in an attempt to maintain a positive attitude. 

“At the end of the day, If we won tonight, we weren’t winning the series automatically anyway,” Haliburton said, “There’s still a lot more work (for us) to do.” 

Losing by 5 points indicates they can compete with them, and Rick Carlisle can make the proper adjustment. The 2002 NBA Coach Of The Year stifled the legendary Miami Heat’s Big 3 in 2011 when he coached the Dallas Mavericks to win a championship, and he’s led the Pacer to the Eastern Conference Finals. They have the number-one offensive rating in the league at 120.1, and his offensive schemes gave Joe Mazulla problems in Game 1.  Mazulla made his adjustments on the defensive end to secure the victory, and Carlisle commented on their adjustments during the post-game press conference. The Pacers committed 22 turnovers, a massive reason for the loss. 

“ We made mistakes, so that's an area we have to clean up, and rebounding was pretty even,” Carlisle said. “ But we did a lot of good things that we need to continue to do, and we’ve been a tough-minded resilient team for the 2nd half of the season, and we have to continue that and come back in here on Thursday night.”  

Coach Mazulla commented on the game's intensity and how his team could stay composed through the adjustments without panicking down the stretch.

“ (It was) nothing other than what I expected, two high-level teams competing for a great opportunity, and so I expect all the games to be like that,” Mazulla said. “ I thought both teams competed at a high level, and for us, we weren't perfect, but I thought we maintained a level of poise and mental toughness to continue to work through so many of the mistakes. That's the bind that they put you in because of the way that they play. We handled it well, and we’re gonna get better.” 

The series opened up with an absolute thriller, and fans are in store for a classic playoff matchup if they continue to play like this. The Celtics are considered the favorites to claim the title, but anything can happen in the NBA playoffs. Haliburton and Siakam offered a more difficult test than expected, and the benches match up well. Tatum and Brown have something to prove after years of coming so close but losing in the end time after time. Game 2 will foreshadow the rest of the series based on how the Pacers respond to the devastating loss in Game 1. With a trip to the 2024 NBA Finals on the line, let us see who wants it more. 



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