Aaron Nesmith
(NBAE/Getty Images)

Game Preview: Pacers at Celtics (Game 1)

Tuesday, May 21 at 8:00 PM ET at TD Garden

Pacers at Celtics (Game 1)

Game Preview

For the first time in 10 years, the Pacers are in the Eastern Conference Finals. After knocking off third-seeded Milwaukee and second-seeded New York in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the sixth-seeded Pacers will now square off with the top-seeded Boston Celtics in a best-of-seven series, with the winner advancing to the NBA Finals.

Indiana is coming off an all-time great performance on Sunday in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, where they set an NBA playoff record for field goal percentage, making 67.1 percent of their shots in a 130-109 win over the Knicks.

Six players scored in double figures in the victory, with All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton leading the way with 26 points and six assists. Indiana got big contributions from its veterans, as Pascal Siakam scored 20 points, Myles Turner had 17 and blocked four shots, and T.J. McConnell tallied 12 points and seven assists of the bench. The Blue & Gold's young defensive-minded duo of Andrew Nembhard and Aaron Nesmith, meanwhile, combined for 39 points on 16-of-18 shooting.

"We have a historic offense, obviously, but this guy (Haliburton) got things rolling and just everybody kind of followed suit," Turner said. "To do that on the road, here in the Garden, in Game 7, is phenomenal, but this is what we’ve been doing all season long and we were able to do it on the biggest stage."

As great as the Pacers played to close out the series with the Knicks, they will face an even stiffer test this round against the Celtics. Boston was far away the top team in the East in the regular season, compiling a 64-18 record and finishing 14 games ahead of second-place New York. The Celtics ranked second in the NBA in the regular season in offensive rating (118.9 points per 100 possessions), third in defensive rating (106.1) and first in net rating (outscoring opponents by 12.8 points per 100 possessions).

Boston has a strong claim to the best starting five in the league. All-Star forwards Jayson Tatum (26.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game in the regular season) and Jaylen Brown (23 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists) lead the way, but the Celtics all have three more All-Star caliber players in center Kristaps Porzingis (20.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks), and guards Derrick White (15.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists) and Jrue Holiday (12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists).

The Celtics won each of their first two series in five games, defeating Miami in the first round Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Porzingis sustained a calf injury in Game 4 against the Heat and has not played since. He may return at some point in the Eastern Conference Finals, but is expected to miss at least the first two games of the series.

As good as the Celtics were in the regular season, the Pacers did beat them twice, including in the In-Season Tournament Quarterfinals on Dec. 4. Both those victories came at home and prior to Indiana's mid-season trade for Siakam.

While the Pacers flew directly to Boston on Sunday night, the Celtics have been off since closing out their series with the Cavaliers on Wednesday. As good as Boston looked in the first two rounds, it did drop one of the first two games of each series at home against both Miami and Cleveland.

One storyline in this series will be Nesmith returning to Boston to face his former team. The Celtics drafted the 6-6 forward out of Vanderbilt with the 14th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Nesmith spent his first two years in Boston and was part of the team that reached the 2022 NBA Finals, but he had a limited role playing behind Tatum and Brown.

The Celtics traded Nesmith to Indiana in the summer of 2022 and he has flourished in his two seasons with the Blue & Gold, where he has been a two-year starter who takes on the toughest defensive assignments and knocks down shots on the offensive end. Nesmith averaged a career-best 12.1 points and 3.8 rebounds this season while shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from 3-point range.

The deal worked out well for both sides, as Boston acquired Malcolm Brogdon from Indiana. Brogdon was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 2022-23, then was used as one of the centerpieces in the traded that brought Holiday to the Celtics last offseason.

Projected Starters

Pacers: G - Tyrese Haliburton, G - Andrew Nembhard, F - Aaron Nesmith, F - Pascal Siakam, C - Myles Turner

Celtics: G - Jrue Holiday, G - Derrick White, F - Jaylen Brown, F - Jayson Tatum, C - Al Horford

Injury Report

Pacers: Bennedict Mathurin - out (right shoulder labral tear)

Celtics: Xavier Tillman - questionable (personal reasons), Kristaps Porzingis - out (right soleus strain)

Last Meeting

Jan. 30, 2024: The Pacers withstood a scorching-hot first half from the Celtics, battled back from a 20-point deficit, and even briefly retook the lead for one possession in the third quarter. But they didn't have quite enough to pull off the comeback, as the Celtics held on for a 129-124 win in Boston.

Seven Pacers finished in double figures, led by Aaron Nesmith, who tallied 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting (4-of-7 from 3-point range), 12 rebounds, and seven assists against the team that drafted him.

Pascal Siakam added 23 points and six rebounds, while Myles Turner scored 17 for the Blue & Gold.

All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton returned to the lineup after missing the past five games and 10 of the last 11 contests with a strained left hamstring. Haliburton played 22 minutes and recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists while going 5-for-16 from the field (1-for-5 from 3-point range). On a minutes restriction, Haliburton did not play in the fourth quarter, subbing out for the final time with 4:42 remaining in the third.

Jayson Tatum led all scorers with 30 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists, going 12-for-19 from the field and 4-for-9 from 3-point range. Jaylen Brown added 25 points and six rebounds, Derrick White tallied 24 points and five assists, while Jrue Holiday stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, five boards, four assists, three blocks, and a steal. Kristaps Porzingis recorded a double-double for the Celtics with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

Noteworthy

  • The Pacers and Celtics have met in the postseason six times, but all of their previous meetings occurred in the first round. Indiana won in 2004 and 2005, while Boston took the other four series in 1991, 1992, 2003, and 2019.
  • This is Indiana's ninth appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, with all those appearance coming in the last 30 years. Only four teams have more conference finals appearances over that span: the Spurs with 11 and the Lakers, Heat, and Celtics with 10 each.
  • Celtics forward Oshae Brissett signed with Boston last summer after spending two-and-a-half seasons in Indiana from 2021-23. The 6-7 forward out of Syracuse averaged 8.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in 153 games (43 starts) with the Blue & Gold. He averaged 3.7 points and 2.9 rebounds in 55 games (one start) this season for the Celtics and has appeared in five games in the playoffs.
  • The Pacers have lost 10 of their last 11 games at TD Garden, including two playoff games in 2019. Indiana's lone win in Boston in that span was a 117-112 victory on Dec. 21, 2022.

Broadcast Information (TV and Radio Listings >>)

TV: ESPN/ESPN2 - Mike Breen (play-by-play), Doris Burke (analyst), JJ Redick (analyst), Lisa Salters (sideline reporter)

Radio: 93.5/107.5 The Fan - Mark Boyle (play-by-play), Eddie Gill (analyst), Jeremiah Johnson (studio host)

Tickets

Single game tickets for the Eastern Conference Finals will go on sale on Tuesday, May 21 at 4:00 PM ET. To sign up for presale access or guarantee playoff seats by placing a deposit on a 2024-25 season ticket plan, please visit Pacers.com/Playoffs.