2024 Eastern Conference Finals preview: Can the Pacers upset the Celtics?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Five
Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Five / Adam Glanzman/GettyImages

The NBA’s final four is set, and the Eastern Conference Finals will pit two similar offensive teams against one another. The Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers have clear differences in terms of overall talent and experience, but the pace could make for a few tight moments. Ultimately, though, the series could come down to Boston’s willingness to play with enough intensity to punch a ticket to the NBA Finals.

The Pacers’ path to this point has been surprising. They defeated a battered Milwaukee Bucks team that was without Giannis Antetokounmpo in a six-game first-round series and barely outdueled a hobbled Knicks squad in a seven-game epic that saw Indiana win games six and seven in decisive fashion.

"Well, we're the uninvited guest," head coach Rick Carlisle told ESPN after the Pacers completed their second consecutive series victory over a higher-ranking seed. "Here we are. When you win a Game 7 in Madison Square Garden, you've made history. It's very, very difficult to do."

Tyrese Haliburton, Pascal Siakam, Myles Turner, Aaron Nesmith, Andrew Nembhard, and others make up a unit that was second in offensive rating and first in pace this season. Their offensive ability has been on full display this postseason. Even when Haliburton did not score a lot, Siakam, Nesmith, Turner, and pieces like T.J. McConnell picked up the slack.

The Pacers set an NBA playoff record by shooting 67.1% from the field in their Game 7 victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Such a showing is indicative of who Indiana can be at its best—an offensive juggernaut. While it’s fair to be concerned about their interior defense outside of Turner, it’s undeniable that their offense has real firepower.

Meanwhile, the Celtics earned the best record in the association, and a league-best 37-4 home record while recording the NBA’s second-best three-point percentage. As the one seed in the Eastern Conference, it was not surprising to see Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, and co. vanquish the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers in gentleman’s sweeps.

The Celtics should be favored, but this is not the first time their stars have faced lofty expectations.

Boston received stellar play from Derrick White, who has averaged 18.2 points through 10 postseason contests, but lost Kristaps Porzingis to a right soleus strain earlier in the tournament. It is not when or if he will return, meaning Al Horford will be asked to maintain an increased workload.

In the two games Boston lost, Tatum and Brown were not necessarily asked to drain big shots down the stretch because the games were already shifting in the opposition’s direction by the final few minutes. The past few seasons have seen the Celtics get close to winning a championship. But, they haven’t been able to grab the brass ring partially because Tatum and Brown have not put together consistent playoff showings.

The Celtics should be favored to advance to the NBA Finals with their star power and experience, but if the Pacers are able to match Boston’s shooting and make portions of the series a track meet, things could get interesting. If so, it may come down to Tatum and Brown's ability to rise to the moment. Game One will be in Boston tonight at 8pm.