They've outpaced themselves in Indiana
BOSTON – The Indiana Pacers have been one of the feel-good stories in the East that isn’t generating the kind of buzz you would expect from a franchise that has far exceeded expectations this season.
And while it is mathematically possible for Boston to see the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, something would have to go radically wrong for this to become a first-round pairing.
Boston (52-23) has all but locked up a playoff seeding no worse than No. 2 overall in the East, while the Pacers (45-31) are fourth in the East after winning at Sacramento 106-103 on Thursday. Indiana is now a half-game ahead of Philadelphia and leads sixth-place Washington and seventh-place Miami by 3.5 and 4.0 games, respectively.
Again, highly unlikely these two would meet in the first round of the playoffs, but if they do, here are some of the pros and cons of a Boston-Indiana matchup.
PRO: Pacers are a wounded team
The only way these two would be facing off in the first round is if the Pacers fall off significantly and essentially limp their way into the postseason. We all know that the playoffs afford teams the opportunity to hit the reset button and in effect, make the success and struggles of how the regular season ended a moot point. But you have to wonder how much of a psychological hurdle would the Pacers face if they find themselves opening up the playoffs against one of the top-two seeds instead of hosting a first-round matchup which is what they would be doing now if the regular season was over.
PRO: Bench play
The Celtics have had no choice but to lean more on their second unit because of all the injuries. But regardless of who has constituted the backups, this group has found a way to make their presence felt, which would be one of the advantages they would have in a series against the Pacers. Indiana has been in the bottom-10 most of this season when it comes to scoring off the bench. Meanwhile, Boston's reserves have been strong since the All-Star break with 41.1 points per game, which ranks 10th in the NBA.
PRO: Brad Stevens
He has been praised for the job he has done in the regular season by keeping the Celtics afloat despite an unusually high rash of injuries. But he's getting to a point in his coaching career where success in the regular season isn't enough. For Boston and its banged-up roster to move past the Pacers would indeed be another step in the right direction for Stevens to show that he's more than just a really good regular season coach.
CON: Victor Oladipo
With Kyrie Irving (knee) out for some if not all of this potential first-round series, Victor Oladipo will be the best player on the floor. This season, Oladipo has averaged 23.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game and is the biggest reason why Indiana is a playoff team. With or without Irving, dealing with Oladipo is not going to be an easy chore.
CON: Frontcourt athleticism
Boston does a good job defensively in part because they have defensive versatility to switch frequently and still be effective. But the Pacers really cause problems because of bigs like Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young who can stretch a defense and score around the basket which puts a tremendous amount of added pressure on a team defensively. Victor Oladipo is going to get his points, regardless of what the Celtics do. But players like Turner and Young would be X-factor type players whose play will significantly impact the series.
CON: Pacers defense
The Indiana Pacers have hovered around being a top-10 defense most of this season. But since the All-Star break, they have become an elite squad at that end of the floor. Indiana has a defensive rating since the break of 102.3, which ranks third in the NBA. An elite defense against a Boston team that may not have Kyrie Irving (knee) ready to return to action, could be a major problem for the Celtics in what would be a tough first-round series.