As underdogs, the Indiana Pacers will need a bit of magic to take down the Boston Celtics.
Only a game or two will separate the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics coming into the playoffs, despite the disparity of talent between them. There are 3 very important things that must happen for the Pacers to beat the Celtics.
1) The Pacers front line must win the battle of the bigs
Myles was rarely shooting (and barely ever making) threes to start the year, shooting just 22.6% through the end of 2018. Since then, he’s been shooting more and more and shooting a fantastic percentage. Starting in February, Turner’s been shooting 3.5 deep balls per game. The Pacers probably need him to do at least that (and likely more) to keep the ultra canny Horford and giant lumberjack Baynes out of the paint, or at least punish them for being there.
Thaddeus Young is shooting 40% from deep himself in the calendar year 2019, and on 2.2 attempts per game. Indiana doesn’t need Thad to be a volume shooter, but definitely a value shooter. If Baynes guards him so Horford can match up with Turner, Thad will get a couple of opportunities to make him pay and blunt his impact. The Celtics typically don’t guard Thad outside the arc, so he’s going to have to make his shots when left open.
Second, the bigs must make Boston pay for going small at power forward. Whether it’s Marcus Morris, or especially Gordon Hayward or Jayson Tatum, the Young/Turner/Sabonis triumvirate have to be ready to abuse them in the post. It’s difficult to expect your bigs to stretch and dominate down low, but the Pacers will need both to have a shot at beating Boston 4 times.
2) Bojan Bogdanovic (and Doug McDermott, to a lesser extent) have to score.
The Indiana Pacers are not going to be able to stop Boston’s parade of good wings (Tatum, Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and even Marcus Smart can be a handful) all at once, but they both can put up points in bunches. The Pacers almost certainly aren’t going to win if Bogey is putting up 10-15 points. They will need him to be a lead dog and killer on the offensive end to win.
Bojan Bogdanovic put up 4 points on 1-8 shooting in the Pacers blowout loss on April 5th. If the Celtics can bottle him up like that moving forward, this will almost certainly be a very short and unpleasant series for fans of the blue and gold.
3) The Pacers as a whole have to win the rebounding battle.
As witnessed against the Nets, the Indiana Pacers can be beaten on the glass by teams that aggressively crash the offensive boards. Aaron Baynes is an extremely large human, and aggressive on the glass. None of the Pacers bigs have the size to overwhelm Baynes, so they must – as a team – attack the defensive glass with fervor.
The bigs have to box out, and the wings and guards absolutely have to be there to scoop up rebounds while Baynes and Horford are held off. Boston is full of excellent shooters, and scrambles off of the offensive rebound lead to great looks, especially from deep. If the Pacers give up offensive rebounds by the bushel, they will almost certainly lose this series handily.
The Pacers are definitely the underdog here. Boston has home court advantage and is a very good home team. The Pacers, meanwhile, are undermanned without Victor Oladipo, have been awful on the road lately, and are facing off against a far more purely talented team.
That being said, the Pacers have played above their pay grade since Vic went down, and Boston hasn’t been nearly as good as they theoretically should’ve been. In order for the Pacers to upset the Celtics and move on, they will need many things to go right beyond those listed above. Gordon Hayward has to be the Gordo of most of the year, not the beast he was against the Pacers last game. Kyrie Irving has to be at least kept in check a little. Jayson Tatum can’t morph into the Tatum of last year’s playoffs. It will take a good bit of luck and a lot of effort, but the Pacers can absolutely make this a series if they get some breaks.