The Boston Celtics were one of the disappointing teams of the 2018/19 regular season, settling for fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and a tough showdown with the Indiana Pacers.
Before the campaign began, Boston were backed as the favorite to emerge from the East having reached the Conference Finals with a depleted squad last term. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward returned to the fold after missing the playoffs with their respective injuries, while young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were all expected to improve.
However, their form was frustratingly inconsistent, failing to win over 50 games. Brad Stevens could not hide his bemusement, while Irving called out younger members of the team. The Celtics are capable of raising their game for the playoffs to make a run to the Finals, but need to put the drama of their regular campaign behind them.
Indiana maintained their impressive form from last campaign, earning the fourth seed. Their achievement was all the more remarkable given that star man Victor Oladipo was ruled out of the season in January after rupturing a tendon in his leg. Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young have all come to the fore since the loss of Oladipo.
However, the burden appeared to be weighing on the Pacers towards the end of the season, losing 10 of their 14 matches in March. It allowed the Celtics to secure home court for the first round. Nate McMillan’s men face a huge task to avoid a first-round exit for the fourth season on the bounce.
The Celtics’ regular season was one of frustration. They had all the talent on their roster to claim top spot in the Eastern Conference and use their position as a platform to reach the NBA Finals. Their path had been blocked by Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James for the previous two seasons. LeBron’s departure opened up a route for the Celtics to secure their first Finals’ berth since 2012. However, Boston have been unable to seize the initiative and now face a challenge to advance even beyond the first round.
Stevens’ men opened up their season with a routine win over the Philadelphia 76ers. It appeared as though the two teams would be a collision course in the Eastern Conference Finals, although it has not been the case. Boston’s season was littered with disappointing losses to poor teams, including the New York Knicks on home soil.
Defeats of that nature kickstarted a theme of losing runs that saw the Celtics lose four games on the bounce three times during the campaign. No run epitomised their season more than back-to-back defeats to the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers where both games were in hand, only for the Celtics to blow both games in the fourth quarter.
Talent is not the issue. Irving was one of the best players on the court in the NBA over the course of the season. Tatum took the next step forward in his development, improving his level of player from his rookie term. Al Horford and Marcus Smart remained valuable options, while Hayward displayed glimpses of his best towards the end of the season. Brown and Terry Rozier were the high-profile disappointments, failing to fire off the bench. However, the playoffs will provide a fresh slate for all.
The Pacers will be ruing their misfortune over losing their key man, which knocked them off course in their bid for the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference. Oladipo had developed into one of the best players in the NBA after underwhelming at his previous two teams. With the Pacers he found his peak form, reaching his second-straight All-Star Game in 2019.
He was a dominant presence at both ends of the court. However, his injury was a brutal loss for the team. At the time they were 32-15 and breathing down the necks of the Toronto Raptors and ahead of the 76ers and the Celtics in the standings. Although they battled manfully without the All-Star, his presence was sorely missed as McMillan and his team settled for the fifth seed.
Indiana have to look no further than the Celtics last season to see a team that performed well in the post-season without their stars. Boston reached the Eastern Conference Finals without Irving and Hayward. The Pacers do have talent in the form of Young, Bogdanovic, Turner and Domantas Sabonis to cause a stir in the playoffs.
Bogdanovic took on the scoring role in the final third, enjoying a career year by averaging 18 points per game. Young has the experience to make a decisive impact, having settled into his role in his third season in Indiana. Turner could be the surprise factor given that he raised the level of his game in the playoffs last term. A strong team spirit will be needed to overcome the adversity and to capitalise on the potential fracturous locker room on the other sideline.
Head to Head
Games Played: 177 Boston Celtics: 98 Indiana Pacers: 79
The Celtics edged the duel between the teams in the regular season, winning the series 3-1. Indiana won the first matchup of the campaign by a point on home court thanks to a 24-point outing from Oladipo.
Boston responded with an emphatic win at the TD Garden, putting 135 points on the board. Irving was the difference between the sides in March with a 30-point outing.
The Celtics will be without Smart for the series, which will affect their defensive capabilities. However, expect the series to follow the same pattern as the final two matches of the campaign. The loss of Oladipo will prevent the Pacers from keeping up with the scoring prowess of Irving and company.
Indiana might be able to snatch a game on home soil, but the Celtics should see out the series by a 4-1 scoreline. The opener at the TD Garden will allow Boston to find their rhythm and get off the mark at odds of 31/1001.31-3200.31-3.200.31 with TopBet, while take the series will be locked up at a price of 1/51.20-5000.20-5.000.20 with BetOnline.
Boston Celtics To Beat Indiana Pacers Game One
Sunday 14th April 2019 13:00 EST (18:00 BST)
Boston Celtics To Beat Indiana Pacers Playoff Series