2019 NBA Playoffs Preview: Kyrie and Celtics take on first test in match-up with Pacers
Will the Celtics figure things out in first-round matchup against Pacers?
Could head coach Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics figure things out before it’s too late? That has been the million-dollar question for the powerhouse squad whole season long, and we have yet to receive a positive answer. The green-and-white has disappointed in almost every front this season, but their excellent roster depth and talent are still intriguing.
Another reason to be optimistic of Boston’s chances for a deep postseason run is that they will face a Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers, who have been struggling as indicated by their 21-21 record since their All-Star shooting guard went down with a season-ending injury. But the Pacers’ chemistry and balanced team play are factors that the Celtics should be wary of. If Kyrie and company don’t gear up fast, they may be in for some trouble.
BOS: K. Irving, T. Rozier, B. Wanamaker
IND: D. Collison, A. Holiday, C. Joseph
Irving won’t have to worry about Oladipo locking him up, so expect the spectacular shotmaker to rack up buckets in this series. The Pacers don’t really have an elite perimeter defender to assign to Kyrie, so it’s safe to say that Collison and Joseph will take turns in containing the All-Star point guard. Obviously, the Celtics are looking forward to a deep postseason run and a potential second-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. If Boston wins the first game by a mile, expect the Celtics to hold back Kyrie from logging in heavy minutes to rest him up for a tough assignment against the Bucks.
BOS: J. Brown, M. Smart (injured), P. Dozier, R. Hunter
IND: W. Matthews, T. Evans, D. Reed
If the Pacers want to have a chance to steal a game from the Celtics, they have to keep it close and winnable in the fourth quarter. And if there is a position that they can win, it would come from the shooting guard spot. The Pacers have quite a versatile weapon with Evans, who could put tremendous pressure on the Celtics below-average inside defense with his ability to penetrate and either finish strong or kick out to an open Matthews or Bojan Bogdanovic. With Marcus Smart not playing in this round after sustaining an oblique injury, the Pacers should exploit Boston’s weakened perimeter defense.
BOS: J. Tatum, G. Hayward
IND: B. Bogdanovic, D. McDermott
Bogdanovic has been absolutely killing it since becoming the Pacers’ go-to-scorer after the Oladipo injury. The 6-foot-8 sweet-shooting small forward has been a walking 25-point scorer every game, and expect Indiana to let him carry the scoring burden in the playoffs. But the numbers say that Bogdanovic has struggled against the Celtics this season, averaging just 13.5 points in their four games. He torched Boston with 27 points in their third game, but followed it up with a measly 4-point outing in their last matchup. Aside from the offensive workload, Bogdanovic will also have his hands full in defending Tatum and Hayward, two players who will look to get their shot going in this series.
BOS: M. Morris, S. Ojeleye, G. Yabusele
IND: T. Young, T. Leaf
With the exception of the ever-versatile Thaddeus Young, this position would not get too much spotlight in this series. Young’s skill to be an inside-out defender should cancel out Marcus Morris’ ability to score from the outside. Young isn’t a bad scorer either, averaging 14.6 points in the last nine games. Morris will get his opportunities when Kyrie kicks out the ball to him, but don’t expect the 6-foot-9 stretch forward to put too much pressure on the Pacers’ defense.
BOS: A. Horford, A. Baynes, D. Theis, R. Williams
IND: M. Turner, D. Sabonis, K. O’Quinn
This is the most intriguing positional match-up for both teams, and it would be really exciting to see how Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis will fare against a veteran intelligent defensive big man like Horford. The Pacers’ young frontline offer two different situations for Horford, with Turner more of a stretch big on offense while Sabonis possesses one of the best post footwork in the league. This could be the strongest positional match-up for the Pacers, and they need Turner and Sabonis to dominate on both ends of the floor to give themselves the opportunity to steal a game from the Celtics.
Celtics: Gordon Hayward
Hayward is not just predicted to be an x-factor for the Celtics this series, but he will be the most game-changing cog for the team should they make a deep run. The 6-foot-8 All-Star forward has been hesitant in slashing to the rim this season, an obvious effect of his horrible season-ending injury last year. But the Celtics have won in all five contests where Hayward scored more than 20 points, and it came against perennial playoff teams like the Pacers, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Golden State Warriors. Hayward should be able to get his confidence back soon, and the competitive juices of the playoffs might just help him with that.
Pacers: Tyreke Evans
We are still yet to see the Tyreke Evans who posted stellar averages of 19.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds for the Memphis Grizzlies last year. Without Oladipo, Evans is the Pacers’ best rim-slashing player, and the Celtics don’t really have a leaping frontcourt player to defend the paint. While Horford is one of the best defensive anchors we have seen in this era, his best ability still lies on defending multiple switches but shot-blocking isn’t really his trump card. The Pacers don’t need that much scoring from Evans, but they should be desperate to see the former Rookie of the Year awardee to get aggressive and put tremendous pressure on Boston’s interior defense.
The Celtics will win this series in five games. We should expect every game to be competitive at the start, but Boston’s incredible depth and talent should be too much for the Pacers to wither especially in the crucial stretches of the game.