Celtics-Pacers Preview: Jayson Tatum vs. Tyrese Haliburton and Key Factors for Eastern Conference Finals

Boston — The Celtics’ hiatus is almost up.

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Following the conclusion of their second-round series on Wednesday, the Indiana Pacers defeated the New York Knicks in seven games on Sunday to reveal their opponent in the Eastern Conference finals. An NBA Finals berth is up for grabs in the Celtics and Pacers’ Tuesday night series opener at TD Garden.

What strategies will be crucial in the game against Indiana? We appreciate you asking.

1. How much of Tyrese Haliburton can the Celtics contain?Jared Weiss: Boston’s shot selection is the first step toward defeating Tyrese Haliburton. Can the Celtics play transition defense with numbers and smart plays? Not because they can sprint out to a numerical advantage, but rather because of Haliburton’s ability to move off the ball quickly and then pose a threat as a trailing 3-point shooter, the Pacers are dangerous in transition. Boston needs his threes to be as much of a step back as they can be.

Jayson Tatum sends message on Tyrese Haliburton after Celtics clobber Pacers

Boston was at its best against Haliburton when switching or putting two defenders on the ball since he likes to drop coverage the Celtics in order to get downhill to floater range. In response, Indiana will move him off the ball out of the corner or give him higher screens. In addition, Indiana maintains enough length on the court to pose a threat on the offensive glass. Making sure Indiana doesn’t receive second chances when Pascal Siakam and Obi Toppin crash the board is a major part of reducing Haliburton.

Haliburton’s plan appeared to be to get Kristaps PorziņĢis dropping deep near the basket in Boston’s lone game against Indiana following the Siakam deal, then kick the ball back to the perimeter so the Pacers could get clean looks. It would be fascinating to see how often Al Horford presses the ball to force Indiana to beat Boston to the rim in this game since Porziņ^is might not return early.

Jay King Haliburton suffered following the All-Star break in contrast to his amazing performance in the early part of the season. Late in the season, his 3-point shooting % fell significantly, but in the playoffs, he has somewhat rediscovered his outside shooting touch, hitting 37.5 percent on over nine 3-point tries per game. Even though he hasn’t played well this postseason, he has played well against the Knicks, including a 26-point performance in Game 7.

Haliburton's triple-double and late 4-point play help Pacers oust Celtics  from NBA tourney

Could some of his comfort be taken by the Celtics? He dissects opponents with passes on the break, so they’ll probably try to run him off the 3-point range, limit his team’s transition opportunities, and physically abuse him. All of it is easier said than done, particularly given how quickly the Pacers play, but Boston can challenge Haliburton with waves of large perimeter defenders. In Game 5 of that series, Horford, who had spent much of the second round chasing guards around the perimeter, turned back time to shut down Darius Garland of the Cavaliers, but Haliburton will probably put more of an exam on him.

2. How much of a difference will it make and how much control will Indiana have over the pace?King: The Celtics placed a lot of emphasis on managing the game’s tempo before to their In-Season Tournament matchup with the Pacers. I almost felt like Joe Mazzulla and the players expended too much energy attempting to slow down the action while listening to them debate the subject. Although a slower game would likely benefit Boston, it’s also critical to hurt Indiana’s defense in transition.

But the Pacers definitely want to play quickly. incredibly quick. According to Inpredictable.com, they have the least amount of shot clock usage of any club this season when it comes to offensive. They attempt to sprint in every circumstance because they were the team that moved the fastest following opposing buckets. They also don’t just aim to fire fast. They move quickly. They chop quickly. They play quickly in many aspects. They may punish even the smallest moments of negligence with their speed. They are the only club that has outscored the Celtics in the first two rounds of the playoffs. In terms of offensive rating during the regular season, Indiana came in second to Boston.

The defensive discipline of the Celtics will be put to the test in this series. Can they reliably remain attached to shooters? Can they maintain a physical relationship with Haliburton for every item? Can they remain vigilant on cutters to remove some of the simple buckets Indiana consistently produces? Can they minimize the Pacers’ transition opportunities by being more effective offensively?

Weiss: The tempo of Indiana shouldn’t surprise the system because the Celtics excelled at running off makes in their game versus Cleveland. The Pacers’ ability to run off misses and Boston’s ability to shoot 3-pointers will be key factors in this game. The Celtics will most likely have plenty of opportunities to post-up in order to disrupt Indiana’s defensive alignment and attempt to draw fouls on players. Anything to avoid the usual early kick-aheads from Haliburton that lead to him attacking open space just moments later.

Boston frequently drops a player in the dunker position to keep the other player 94 feet away and prevent him from obtaining an outlet pass and outpacing the transition defense. Because the Celtics have several individual scorers that New York did not, the Pacers will find it more difficult to establish a rhythm when attacking in transition when they are unsure of Boston’s offensive strategy.

3. Is it possible for the Celtics to exploit the Pacers’ vulnerable defense?King: The Pacers aren’t quite the same squad that finished the regular season ranked 24th in defensive efficiency after adding Siakam. After the trade deadline, they were a little less abhorrent 19th; Siakam provides them with the length and athleticism they will sorely need in the East fin

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But the Pacers defense is still a weakness. Even though they were playing the Milwaukee Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round, they were ranked 12th in defense out of 16 teams. The Knicks also thoroughly humiliated Indiana before New York practically ran out of healthy bodies. In this series, the Celtics ought to be able to score.

Not only is Haliburton a dubious defender, but his effect on the other end should be lessened by having to guard every play, so expect them to target him. The Celtics are large enough to pursue Haliburton in a variety of methods. They may use Jrue Holiday to post him up. He might be subjected to screening procedures against Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. There is nowhere to hide in the Celtics starting lineup. When they’re at their most vicious.

I’m especially looking forward to the Aaron Nesmith plotline. He plays every game as though the next possession could determine the course of his life. I anticipate him to spin around the floor like a tornado, especially because he is playing his former team in the NBA Finals. Before he runs into a Celtics player and sends them both flying to the court, I would put the over/under at five minutes. Is Nesmith, a Pacer with enough muscle to rival the huge Boston wings, going to cause them any trouble at all? Seeing him try should be entertaining.

Weiss: Expect the Celtics to treat Haliburton the same way they treated Garland and Tyler Herro of the Heat. The ball will be brought downcourt by Brown or Tatum, and the Celtics will play out of the play whoever Haliburton is guarding will come over to run into a screen. To go downhill and put the Pacers into a rotation, any of the Jays can put a shoulder into him. Then, they can kick it out to find the shooter. Like it was for Cleveland and Miami, Rick Carlisle will have a difficult time coming up with strategies to combat this.

Indiana’s significant advantage versus New York is already offset by the fact that Boston is more prepared than most teams in the league to go straight for center Myles Turner thanks to Tatum and Brown. There will be three guys on the floor who can score more than anyone when or if Porziņģis returns in this series. Since the Pacers lack physical and disciplined perimeter defenders, it is difficult to see them stopping Boston’s half-court drives for an extended period of time.

The Celtics should be able to control the pace of the game as long as Boston isn’t shooting ice cold because they can be patient and position their physical leverage points wherever they choose. If that doesn’t work, they can try spreading pick-and-roll to get some pull-up looks for Brown, Tatum, and Derrick White. They can be slightly bothered by Andrew Nembhard and Nesmith getting past those screens, but good luck avoiding foul trouble with those guys.

4. Will the Pacers bench lead by T.J. McConnell continue to score large runs?Weiss: Haliburton said that the Pacers had the best bench in the NBA following the team’s victory in Game 7 against the Knicks. They are definitely acting like it right now, even though that might be stretching it.

T.J. McConnell was one of the Pacers’ greatest players throughout the Knicks series because of his ability to make basket-safe passes through dense paint when Haliburton isn’t playing. McConnell excels at staying aggressive on both ends of the court and creating big plays in tight spaces. Boston typically looks to isolate small guards, but McConnell can throw off anyone’s rhythm since he is a tough defender with excellent hands.

The most important concern for the Celtics is if they will move the big men from Indiana; it would be the greatest method to prevent McConnell from declining. He is adept at driving beneath the rim to reset the attack from the post and surprise opponents, though, even when they have centers on him. The Pacers bench will be extremely difficult for players like Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard to cover when McConnell changes the offensive play, especially with Ben Sheppard shooting so effectively and Toppin being a dangerous cutter.

King: McConnell completely changes the structure of a game. When he was in the starting lineup in the second round, the Pacers defeated the Knicks by 31 points, but they lost every other minute by three. He picks up steals during the entire game. He bonds himself to the ballhandlers on the other team. He is the court’s little lightening bolt, striking everywhere.

Similar to Indiana’s, the Celtics bench has altered numerous games this year. Two exuberant second units could have a fantastic confrontation in this series. Pritchard and McConnell ought to be rough and tumble. In the postseason, they have each left their mark.

5. What kind of expectations are reasonable for Kristaps Porziņ^is?King: Prior to Game 4 of the second round, PorziņĒis had his last workout in front of the media during the Celtics shootaround. That day he didn’t perform at peak efficiency, but he’s had over a week to recuperate. The East finals start date was moved to Tuesday, which benefited him by giving him a few more days off. He will have recovered from his calf injury over three weeks by the time the series begins. According to In Street Clothes, a soleus strain often results in a 17-day recovery period. PorziņĖis ought to be nearing his return if that forecast holds true.

In response to the question of whether Mazzulla was hopeful the big man would make a comeback during this series, she replied, “I’m an optimistic person in general.”

Although calf injuries can be difficult to treat, it wouldn’t be shocking to see PorziņĎis throughout this series. The Celtics ought to exercise caution. If they continue to handle business as they have, they shouldn’t have to rush him back.

Weiss: Porziņģis isn’t the best fit in this particular matchup either. The Pacers’ offensive strategy, as previously indicated, aims to persuade PorziŇģis to drop to the rim in order to obtain cleaner looks from three point range and take some floaters. To get Turner open shots, the Pacers will use a lot of Haliburton-Turner pick-and-roll plays. The Pacers can run that movement from the left elbow if he isn’t shooting, allowing Turner to get to his righty hook over Porziņģis. It’s preferable, at least for defense, to have Horford in there switching and making Indiana play less fluidly and attack cross matches.

On the other side, Boston would adore PorziņIJis’ floor spacing to make Turner pay for splurging on pick-and-rolls. Tatum and Brown would have a difficult time getting by against Turner, who you saw in Game 7 ruining every Knicks run with his rim protection. Anticipate a lot more pick-and-pops or people just stepping out to the elbows if Porziņģis gets out there. Boston will want to restrict the amount of time and distance he must sprint downhill in order to regain defensive position, particularly when facing a team that enjoys applying pressure early and frequently.