After ending the regular season only 1 game apart, Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers ended up paired in the first round in the playoffs, which is something we and they expected to happen for a while. With that, they both had time to forge out a plan on how to defeat their opponents, but the question remains, who did a better job in preparing themselves?
Teams had a completely different path to the playoffs in more or less all aspects. On one side we have Boston Celtics, who were expected to be the dominant force in the East. The expectations arose soon after the return of their All-Stars; Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. But the expectations rarely turn into reality, and that was the case with Boston.
Celtics ended up struggling throughout the season with subpar performances in the offensive end. With their performances in the offence, Boston ended up as the 9th most efficient team in the offence. With subpar performance comes subpar record of 48-33, which was enough to get them into the playoffs, but not nearly as good as it was expected from them.
On the other side, we have got Indiana Pacers, the team who made Cavaliers work hard to even get into the conference semi-finals last year. After a 7 game first round against NBA finalists, Indiana Pacers looked into 2019 season with high hopes, but those soon turned to dust.
January 23rd was the day when Indiana Pacers optimism took a sudden turn after the injury of their star player Victor Oladipo. A player who was expected to carry the team deep into the playoffs suffered a season-ending injury, which put Indiana Pacers playoff appearance under a big question.
Despite the missing star players, Indiana Pacers proved to the world, they are not just a 1 player team and can play just as well without Oladipo. Much of their success in the remaining months of the season is due to their impressive defence and incredible coaching from their head coach Nate McMillan. While the remainder of the season was nowhere near what we saw from Pacers in the first half of the season, they still held on to a 23-23 without Oladipo.
With impressive performance even without Oladipo, Indiana Pacers earned themselves a respectable 5th spot in the East and with that a playoff spot. But can they continue performing on the highest level, and are Indiana Pacers capable of knocking out Boston Celtics?
Verdict & Prediction
The underwhelming season did not remove any pressure on Boston Celtics to perform up to par and end up in the conference finals. But to get there, they first need to overcome Indiana Pacers who proved before they can stand up against Celtics.
As mentioned, Indiana are not as strong as they could be heading into the playoffs, so there are some doubts about how will their fare against Celtics. But then again, we also doubted Indiana will manage to hold on to the playoff spot.
As it stands now, teams seem to fairly equally match, and while they did not shine in the regular season, their elite defence did. With two of the best defensive teams going against each other, we can expect an incredible encounter, where every mistake, every easy basket could end up deciding the match.
Being the first round match in Boston, Celtics are favourites to win, which is a fair assessment, however, I do not believe they will manage to completely dominate Indiana and their impressive defence. The injury of Marcus Smart put him side-lined for at least the first round, and with that hindered Celtics offensive strength. Nonetheless, they still have incredible depth in the squad which should help them going forward without their guard.
With that in mind, Celtics winning is quite possible, but I do not believe they will have an easy time doing so. Expect a close match with single-digit margin separating the teams after the final whistle.
Prediction: Indiana Pacers +7.00 points
Odds: 2.04 Matchbook