NBA Eastern Conference Finals preview: Tatum, well-rested Celtics face Haliburton, surging Pacers

Published May 21, 2024, 4:55 PMPao Ambat

This will be the first time the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers meet in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics meet Tyrese Haliburton and the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. | Art by Mitzi Solano/One Sports

Playing in the Eastern Conference Finals is nothing new to the league-leading Boston Celtics, who are making their third consecutive appearance and sixth in the last eight years. 

It’s a whole different story for the Indiana Pacers, who are making their first appearance on the stage since 2014.

The number one Celtics are set to lock horns with the number five Pacers in a fascinating Eastern Conference Finals showdown beginning May 22, Wednesday, in Boston. 

Both teams took different routes but managed to reach the same destination. 

Boston needed just five games each to eliminate the Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat in the opening round, and Donovan Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the semifinals. The Celtics have not played since May 15. 


[ALSO READ: Celtics turn back short-handed Cavaliers to book third straight East Finals trip]

Indiana, on the other hand, put away the undermanned Milwaukee Bucks in six games in round 1, before outlasting the banged-up Knicks in seven games the second round.

[ALSO READ: Pacers advance to East Finals after historic, decisive Game 7 win over Knicks]

Celtics-Pacer 2024 NBA regular season head-to-head: 


Both teams faced each other five times in the regular season, including the In-Season Tournament, with the Celtics holding a 3-2 edge over the Pacers. In their first match-up, Boston scored 155 points over Indiana, but the Pacers responded by eliminating the Celtics in the quarterfinal round of the inaugural NBA IST.  Boston averaged a whopping 129 points in those five meetings against Indiana. 


Storylines to watch:


 Porzingis' availability is Boston's biggest unknown

The Celtics went all in this past offseason and traded for 7-foot-3 center Kristaps Porzingis. 

A shooting big who can stretch out and provide rim protection, Porzingis flourished in his role of being the third star behind the dynamic duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. He averaged 20.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in the regular season. 


However, the Latvian has been sidelined with a calf injury since Game 5 of the Celtics' first-round series against the Miami Heat on April 30 – forcing him to miss the entirety of Boston's five-game conference semifinal series victory over Cleveland. 


 NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski also confirmed Porzingis is “expected to remain sidelined for Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but with optimism that he will be able to return sometime in the series barring any setbacks.”


 The nine-year NBA veteran is having a career year in shooting (52%) and career highs in field and effective field goal percentage (59%) this season and allowed a second-best 44.3% shooting in the paint.


How will Indiana play against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown?

In the two series that they won, the Pacers took full advantage by throwing multiple defenders against the Bucks’ Damian Lillard and again on the Knicks’ Jalen Brunson. 

The question now is how Indiana would defend the superstar tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and the high-powered Celtics? 



Whether sending doubles teams or playing straight up, the Pacers should be wary of their game plan.

Double one of two and Boston’s shooters get going, trying single coverage and the superstar wings can certainly dominate in the freethrow battle.

Pick your poison, as they say.

Haliburton vs. Boston's stingy backcourt


 To have even a chance of beating the heavily-favored Celtics, there’s no secret that Pacers superstar guard Tyrese Haliburton needs to have an elite offensive and playmaking production.



Haliburton averaged 21 points, four rebounds, and seven assists per game on a 54 percent shooting clip in the East semifinals against the Knicks. But now, he will be challenged of increasing his offense against perhaps the league's best defensive backcourt in Jrue Holiday and Derrick White.


 Holiday and White are both long and rangy enough to give Haliburton plenty of trouble throughout the series and are coming off a Game 5 victory in which it helped hold Cleveland guards Darius Garland and Max Strus to a combined 23 points on 7-for-27 shooting.


 Indiana's turbocharged offense is built around the scoring and playmaking of Haliburton. So Holiday and White present the toughest challenge yet.


So who you got representing from the East in the NBA Finals: Celtics or Pacers?


 Game 1 of the series will be on May 22, Wednesday, 8:00 a.m. LIVE on One Sports, NBA TV Philippines, and the Pilipinas Live app.