On Tuesday, winning the In-Season Tournament seemed unlikely for the Boston Celtics. They were 2-1 in group play and needed to beat the Chicago Bulls by at least 23 points to even have a chance at advancing.
They proceeded to wallop Chicago, 124-97, and the Brooklyn Nets defeated the Toronto Raptors, making Boston the winners of East Group C. For their efforts, the C's will take on the Indiana Pacers in the In-Season Tournament Quarterfinals on Monday night.
Everyone loves a bracket…
The NBA In-Season Tournament moves on to the Knockout Rounds!
Quarterfinals: Dec. 4 & 5
Semifinals: Dec. 7
Championship: Dec. 9 pic.twitter.com/7yoDMwe9Xe
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) November 29, 2023
While Boston had a difficult path to the next round, Indiana went 4-0 in group play and put up at least 121 points in every game. The Pacers are currently 9-8 overall and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Atop the NBA standings are the Celtics, who improved to 15-4 after narrowly beating the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night. Although a contest between a first-place squad and a team barely over .500 might be overlooked, this game could provide plenty of fireworks. So, without further ado, let's delve into three bold predictions ahead of the Celtics' In-Season Tournament matchup with the Pacers.
The Celtics score over 130 points
The Pacers are arguably the most lethal offense in the league right now. They average 127.9 points per game, which is the highest mark in the league and well above the Atlanta Hawks' second-place output of 123.3 points.
Conversely, they allow the most points in the NBA. The Pacers let up 125.8 points per game on average, ranking their defense below lowly teams like the 3-16 Washington Wizards and the 2-17 Detroit Pistons.
Indiana, coincidentally, loves to pick up the pace of a game and turn a matchup into an offensive showcase. Some teams can't keep up with the Pacers' onslaught, however, the Celtics have what it takes to go toe to toe with their scoring.
Boston's 116.7 points per game isn't near the Pacers' mark, but it's still top-10 in the NBA and through 19 games rather than the 17 Indiana has played. With stars like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kristaps Porzingis, Boston's new-look offense has been potent and efficient more often than not.
Porzingis, who's dealing with a calf strain, might not play against the Pacers. Yet, the Celtics are still capable of putting up big numbers without him, especially against a weaker defense. Indiana was undermanned the last time the Celtics and Pacers met in early November, yet Boston dropped a whopping 155 points in the blowout win. Repeating a historic performance like that is improbable, but don't be surprised if the Celtics go north of 130 points.
The Celtics are unable to slow down Tyrese Haliburton
If you're wondering how the Pacers have such an impressive scoring attack, look no further than point guard Tyrese Haliburton.
The 2023 All-Star is averaging an insane 27 points and 11.8 assists per game on 51.9 percent shooting from the field. He's averaging the most assists in the league and helped the Pacers have the most assists per outing (30.1) of any team.
Haliburton's also taking care of the ball, as his 4.7 assist-to-turnover ratio is the 14th-best in the NBA. While he missed out on the Celtics drubbing his squad earlier this season, Haliburton has had success against Boston in the past.
As a Pacer, he's never scored under 20 points when facing off with the Celtics. In fact, he helped Indiana topple the Green Team last December by posting 33 points and eight assists in just 34 minutes.
Furthermore, over his last five games, Haliburton has averaged an incredible 34.6 points. Boston has only given up over 30 points to an individual player one time all season in a non-overtime game, and that came at the hands of Hawks point guard Trae Young. The Celtics still won that game and while they should defeat the Pacers, Haliburton could very well go off.
Boston wins by less than eight
If Porzingis doesn't play, Boston's path to the In-Season Tournament Semifinals will be difficult. Regardless of his health, this Celtics-Pacers showdown should be a close game.
The Pacers are a hungry team still looking for meaningful wins to match their statistical dominance. Even Haliburton said after a loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday that he didn't care about his 44-point performance—he just wants to win, per Bleacher Report:
“I'm tired of being a loser,” he said bluntly.
Haliburton and the Pacers could capture a signature victory by beating Boston. Narratives aside, the Celtics boast an impressive starting five that few teams have been able to slow down. They occasionally let up in games they should win though, so this game could come down to the wire.