Celtics, Pacers prepared for Eastern Conference finals

Staff WritersAP
Boston will go into the Indiana series confident thanks to a 3-2 win-loss record this season. (AP PHOTO)
Camera IconBoston will go into the Indiana series confident thanks to a 3-2 win-loss record this season. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AP

So much about the journey the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers have taken to the Eastern Conference finals has been about what - or specifically who - they haven't had to face to get to here.

Top-seeded Boston mostly coasted to a 4-1 first-round series win over a Miami Heat team that played without Jimmy Butler, the player who'd tormented and broken the heart of the Celtics in Game 7 of last season's conference finals. They then posted another 4-1 series victory in the second round over an injury-ravaged Cleveland Cavaliers team that didn't have All-Star Donovan Mitchell for the final two games.

The route for sixth-seeded Indiana has also had some notable hurdles removed.

The Pacers needed six games to earn a first-round win over a Milwaukee Bucks team missing Giannis Antetokounmpo. They then outlasted a New York Knicks side that was leading the series 3-2 before tripping over a rash of injuries that included star Jalen Brunson breaking his hand in Indiana's lopsided Game 7 victory.

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But neither Boston nor the Pacers are focused on the narratives surrounding the paths they took to get to this point. They're here. And beginning with Game 1 on Tuesday night (Wednesday AEST) in Boston, it's now NBA Finals or bust for both.

"You just got to focus on what matters most," Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said.

"That's your team. That's each possession in front of you. That's whatever your job is ... Just be able to focus the mind on what matters because it's easy to get distracted or eluded from what the overall goal and what the target is when you start to entertain kind of everything that's going around you."

Indiana guard Tyrese Haliburton said the expectations they've had internally were always high.

"We had pre-season camp in Nashville - just players, no coaches. That's what we communicated from the jump. That we expected to be here. This ain't a surprise to us," he said.

"It's not a fluke. We expect this from our group. Once we added (Pascal Siakam) we knew we could really take off."

The Pacers reached their first conference finals since 2014 by topping the NBA with 123.3 points per game during the regular season, the sixth-highest average in league history. That was on top of scoring 140 points a record 11 times.

This will be the seventh playoff meeting between the two.

All six of the previous matchups (1991, 1992, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2019) have been in the first round, with the Celtics winning four of the series, including a 4-0 sweep in 2019.

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