Familiar foes Pacers, Celtics set for Game 1
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Two teams headed in opposite directions when the regular season came to an end, resulting in a change in playoff seeding, open an Eastern Conference first-round best-of-7 on Sunday afternoon when the Indiana Pacers visit the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics (49-33) will have home-court advantage in the series after overtaking the Pacers (48-34) simply by going 7-6 down the stretch.
Indiana, which had a two-game lead over Boston on March 15 in their battle for the fourth playoff seeding in the East, staggered to a 4-9 finish, which included two crucial losses to the Celtics, 114-112 at Boston on March 29 and 117-97 at home on April 5.
Two big issues for the Pacers in the late head-to-heads were their inability to contain the Boston offense in general and Gordon Hayward specifically.
Hayward totaled 32 points in the two games, shooting 13-for-16.
His efficiency helped the Celtics shoot 51.2 percent and 52.2 percent in the wins, easily better than Indiana's 46.7 and 41.3.
Boston won three of their four meetings on the season.
The Pacers, who will be making their fourth straight visit to the playoffs, might have been surprised by a player who struggled for 75 percent of the season as he came back from major leg surgery, but Hayward's teammates weren't.
"I think Gordon's always been a threat because people know he's a good shooter and what he's done before," swingman Jaylen Brown noted to reporters. "And he's always been able to pass the ball. He's been making the right reads and stuff all year. I think now it's probably getting more attention because he's scoring the ball at a higher rate."
Having reached the postseason for the fifth consecutive year, the Celtics might have to ask even more of Hayward in the playoffs with Brown bothered by back spasms and Marcus Smart out for at least a month with a partially torn oblique.
Terry Rozier is the likely replacement for Smart in the starting lineup.
The Pacers know all about key injuries. They've had to deal with the loss of guard Victor Oladipo since Jan. 23, when he suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee.
They also were missing guard Darren Collison because of a groin injury in the home loss to the Celtics earlier this month.
Pacers coach Nate McMillan noted to reporters that it was no coincidence his team was hurt by its transition defense with its floor leader out of action.
"We have to do a better job of matching up and cutting down on those transition points," he said. "That's where it starts. We have to get this team in the half-court. They certainly have capable players, but we can't give up 25, 26 fast-break points. You are going to be digging yourself in a hole."
The teams haven't met in the postseason since 2005, when the Pacers, seeded behind the Celtics, won three times in Boston to steal a 4-3 series win.
That was their third consecutive first-round pairing, with the top-seeded Pacers recording a 4-0 sweep in 2004, one year after watching the Celtics win Game 1 on the road en route to a 4-2 upset.
One thing's for sure: Both teams have to be happy seeing each other rather than LeBron James.
The Pacers had their season come to an end at the hands of James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round each of the past two years.
Two rounds later in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavaliers ended the Celtics' championship bid both seasons on their way to the NBA Finals.
--Field Level Media
Updated April 13, 2019