How Pacers' head coach makes the difference in the Eastern Conference Finals

As we saw in Game 1, Rick Carlisle can swing games for this young Pacers team. He has to be at the top of his game for the rest of the series.
Milwaukee Bucks v Indiana Pacers - Game Four
Milwaukee Bucks v Indiana Pacers - Game Four / Emilee Chinn/GettyImages

Thirteen years ago, Carlisle won his first and only NBA title as a head coach. After being down 0-2 to the Miami Heat, his Dallas Mavericks came back and won four straight to capture the trophy.

In his third year at the helm for the Pacers, Carlisle has brought his playoff experience with him to Indiana. His squad was down 0-2 against a higher-seeded New York Knicks. Then, they won four of their next five games going 3-0 at home and winning the decisive Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.

Where Carlisle and his Pacers benefited from a banged-up semifinal opponent, the Pacers got the job done. They took advantage of a Knicks squad with a head coach, Tom Thibodeau, who has a reputation for over-expending his starters with too many minutes in games or series.

In his third stint with the Pacers' organization, second as a head coach, Carlisle could very well be the reason why his players are able to outperform the Boston Celtics. Indiana just needs to win four games before they lose three in order to advance to their first NBA Finals since their only appearance in 2000. Then, they lost 4-2 to the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Let's take a look at what Carlisle can do to combat his adversary, Celtics' coach Joe Mazzulla.

Coaching experience plays a major factor this deep into the playoffs.

Carlisle had a year off before taking over for the Detroit Pistons in 2001. He led the playoff-bound squad where they won 50 games in back-to-back seasons. The next year when he was replaced by Larry Brown, the Pistons won the title.

Carlisle only had three losing seasons in his thirteen with the Mavericks, four where he failed to qualify. Though he went ten years without winning a playoff series in Dallas, Carlisle has been to the playoffs many more seasons than Mazzulla.

He went 11-9 last year during the postseason in his first season as head coach. The Celtics have yet to drop more than one game in a playoff series this season, too.

Mazzulla is only in his second season as a head coach after spending the three previous seasons as an assistant. His roster supports a much deeper and perhaps talented roster than that of the Knicks. Thus, the Pacers will have a tougher go of it this next round if they look to advance.

Carlisle's Pacers Provide Sufficient Challenge to Boston

Yes, Boston won three of the five regular season games against Indiana. But one of those two wins for the Pacers came when they won in the semifinals of the inaugural In-Season Tournament. Indiana proved it can stop Boston in a high-profile contest.

It was December 4th, earlier in the season, where the Pacers won by ten points. It was also the first triple-double of Tyrese Haliburton's career.

Though the two teams haven't faced each other since January 30th, their last contest was only decided by five points. The Pacers lost a close battle against the Eastern Conference's top seed, 129-124.

The potential is there for this series to go the full seven games. After winning on Sunday, Carlisle is now 3-2 in the postseason during a Game 7. One of those three victories occurred when the Pacers ousted the Celtics in the 2005 NBA Eastern Conference Finals during Carlisle's first stint as Indiana's head coach.


We saw in Game 1 that coaching is going to be a big factor. Carlisle made a crucial mistake that cost the Pacers. If Indiana wants to win this series, he can't make any more mistakes. He's tactically better than Mazzula. He has to be better situationally as well.