Celtics and Pacers set to battle in first round playoff match up

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The Boston Celtics earned the fourth seed in the NBA Eastern Conference and will host the fifth seeded Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. Boston had a 28-13 record at home and 21-20 record on the road this season, while the Pacers were 29-12 at home ans 18-22 on the road. 

Examining the season series, the Pacers edged the Celtics by the score of 102-101 on November 3, 2018. Victor Oladipo lead the Pacers with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Marcus Morris scored 23 for Boston. Jayson Tatum lead the Celtics with seven rebounds and Marcus Smart added nine assists in the loss. 

Boston rebounded to thump Indiana at home on January 9 of this year by the score of 135-108. Morris again lead the Celtics in scoring with 20, to go along with eight rebounds. Al Horford added eight assists. Domantas Sabonis paced Indiana with 20 points and five assists, while Thaddeus Young hauled in eight rebounds.

The third meeting was a tight contest, much like the first. This time the Celtics came out on top at home by a 114-112 score. Boston's Kyrie Irving lead all scorers with 30 points. Aron Baynes had a game high 13 rebounds and Marcus Smart added six assists. Without Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic lead the Pacers with 27 points, while Myles Turner hauled in 11 rebounds in the loss.

The last regular season meeting between the teams on April 5 was another blowout win by the Celtics, this time on the road by 20 points. Jayson Tatum topped all players with 20 points and Baynes again lead in rebounds with 11. Myles Turner was a surprise leading scorer for Indiana, dropping 15 points and seven rebounds.

Comparing the teams statistically heading into this playoff showdown, Boston averages 112.4 points per game, compared to 107.7 for Indiana. On the other hand, the Pacers allow only 104.3 points compared to 108 for Boston. The teams are nearly identical in terms of three-point field goal percentage and rebounding. A huge difference is that Boston attempts over nine more 3pt shots per game, translating into about ten more points per game, just from long range. That could be the key to the series.

Individually, the Celtics are lead by Kyrie Irving, who averaged 23.8 points and 6.9 assists per game this season, while hitting 40 percent from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum added nearly 16 per game and six boards, hitting 37 percent of his 3pt attempts. Marcus Morris, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward all average in double digits and pose perimeter defensive problems for opponents. Boston has a deep, solid offensive unit.

With the absence of Oladipo, the Pacers rely on the long range shooting of Bojan Bogdanovic, hitting 43 percent from long range. He also leads the team in scoring at 18 points per game. Domantas Sabonis provides offense and a strong rebounding presence off the bench. Myles Turner adds 13.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and a surprising outside touch for a big man. Veteran Thaddeus Young is a solid complimentary piece, averaging in double-digits scoring. Darren Collison and Doug McDermott both hit over 40 percent from beyond the arc. They may need to increase their attempts to put pressure on Boston's perimeter defense.

The teams are relatively evenly matched, as their regular season records indicate. Boston had a 3-1 season series advantage. Both teams are excellent at home, but the key is that Boston is more solid on the road. That will make the difference in the series. Look for Boston to take down the Pacers in six games, possibly seven to move on the Eastern Conference semifinals.

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