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Boston Celtics (3-0) at Indiana Pacers (0-3) Eastern Conference Finals Game #4 5/27/24

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The Celtics enter Game 4 of this series with a commanding 3-0 lead over the Indiana Pacers. Prior to Game 3, Indiana had won 11 straight games at home and were undefeated at home in the playoffs. The Celtics came back from down 18 points to win the game and remain undefeated on the road in these playoffs. The Celtics will look to sweep the series and move on to their 2nd Finals appearance in 3 years.

One hundred and fifty-three teams have taken a 3 0 lead in a best of 7 series in NBA history. Of those 153 teams, none have come back from down 0-3 to win the series. In spite of history, the Celtics need to be aware that being up 3-0 isn't a guarantee of anything. Just last season, they were the team down 0-3 to the Heat and they won 3 straight to force a Game 7. Even though they lost Game 7, they know that if they don't take care of business, anything can happen.

This is the Celtics 6th appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals in 8 years. It is also their 3rd straight Eastern Conference Finals appearance. The Pacers have not been in the Eastern Conference Finals since 2014 when they lost in 6 games to the Heat. The Pacers last appearance in the playoffs was in 2018-19 when they were swept by the Celtics in the first round. The Celtics won 4 of the 6 series between these two teams so far and all of them were in the first round.

Once again, Kristaps Porzingis has been ruled out for this game. From reports, this is more out of caution than any complications from his injury. The Celtics should be able to close out this series without him and it would give him more time before the Finals start to rest up and to heal. He traveled with the team to Indiana and is considered to be close to a return but the Celtics will likely be very cautious with him.

Jrue Holiday was questionable with an illness before Game 3, but he played in that game anyway. He is once again listed as questionable for Game 4. However, I expect him to play once again. Luke Kornet was doubtful for Game 3 and did not play. He has been listed as questionable for this game and both players' status will be a game time decision. Joe Mazzulla may go small once again or he may give Xavier Tillman some minutes.

For the Pacers, Benedict Mathurin remains out after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum. With just under three minutes left in the third quarter of Game 2 on Thursday, Tyrese Haliburton left the game and limped to the locker room. He was ruled out for the rest of the game with a hamstring injury. He injured the same hamstring on 1/8 and missed 10 of the next 11 games.

Indiana went 6-4 in the 10 games he missed in the regular season due to the hamstring injury. He missed Game 3 and is listed as questionable for this game. I'm going to guess that they will keep him out of this game as well. Carlisle started Ben Sheppard at shooting guard and moved Andrew Nembhard to the point and I'll guess that he will do the same in this game if Haliburton is not cleared to play.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves

Oshae Brissett

Sam Hauser

Svi Mykhailiuk

Payton Pritchard

Jordan Walsh

Jaden Springer

Xavier Tillman

Neemias Queta

2 Way Players

JD Davison

Drew Peterson

Injuries/Out

Kristaps Porzingis (calf) out

Luke Kornet (wrist) questionable

Jrue Holiday (illness) questionable

Head Coach

Joe Mazzulla

Probable Pacers Starters

Pacers Reserves

Isaiah Jackson

Quenton Jackson

James Johnson

Doug McDermott

Jalen Smith

Obi Toppin

Jarace Walker

Two Way Players

Kendall Brown

Oscar Tshiebwe

Isaiah Wong

Injuries/Out

Benedict Mathurin (shoulder) out

Tyrese Haliburton (hamstring) questionable

Head Coach

Rick Carlisle

Key Matchups

Jrue Holiday vs Andrew Nembhard

Ordinarily, this would be the Holiday/Haliburton matchup, but with Haliburton out, Nembhard proved that he can play and the Celtics need to defend him. In Game 1, Nembhard finished with 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 7 assists while shooting 50% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. In Game 2, he finished with 16 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal while shooting 50% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc. In Game 3, he finished with 32 points, 4 rebounds, and 9 assists while shooting 57.1% from the field and 57.1% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to defend this position well, whether it is Haliburton or Nembhard. Holiday has been playing very well for the Celtics, even while suffering from an illness in Game 3. The Celtics need him to continue his excellent play on both ends of the court.

Jayson Tatum vs Pascal Siakam

Siakam finished Game 1 with 24 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists and 1 steal while shooting 52.2% from the field and was 0-2 from beyond the arc. He finished Game 2 with 28 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists while shooting 76.5% from the field and was 2-2 on three pointers. In Game 3, he finished with 22 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal while shooting 50% from the field and 0-3 on three pointers. Tatum came up big for the Celtics in Game 3 and they need him to have another big game in this one on both offense and defense and on the boards.

Honorable Mention

Al Horford vs Myles Turner

Turner finished Game 1 with 23 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks while shooting 69.2% from the field and 75% from beyond the arc. He struggled somewhat in Game 2 with 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal while shooting 42.9% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. In Game 3, he once again played well with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 1 assist while shooting 56.3% from the field and 0-3 from beyond the arc. The Celtics have to be aware of his presence in the paint as he is a good rim protector and also a good rebounder. They also have to stay with him on the perimeter as he can hit 3's if left open. With the Celtics trying to limit Horford's minutes and Kornet likely to be out, we may see some Xavier Tillman at center or we may see more small ball with Brissett getting more minutes. .

Keys to the Game

Defense - Defense is the key to winning every single game and especially against the Pacers as they lead the playoffs with 120.7 offensive rating. The Celtics are 2nd in the playoffs with a 120.2 offensive rating. The Celtics are 4th in the playoffs with a defensive rating of 108.8. The Pacers are 13th with a defensive rating of 119.3. The Celtics need to make defense their identity and their priority. In Game 1, the Pacers shot 53.3% from the field and 37.1% from beyond the arc. In Game 2, the Pacers shot 52.4% from the field and 37.9% from beyond the arc. In the first half of Game 3, the Pacers shot 63.6%from the field and 37.5% from three and they built an 18 point lead. In the second half, the Celtics tightened up their defense and held the Pacers to 38.3% from the field and 14.3% from three. The Celtics have to step up their defense in Game 4 as that is how they will beat the Pacers. The Celtics must defend them both in the paint and on the perimeter. Defense down the stretch helped to pull out Game 1 and defense allowed the Celtics to pull away in Game 2 and to come back from down 18 to win Game 3. Defense will determine the winner of this game and this series. The Celtics need to play lock down defense for 48 minutes and not just in spurts.

Rebound - The Celtics are 4th in the playoffs, pulling down 43.7 rebounds per game. The Pacers are 12th with 41.0 rebounds per game. In Game 1, the Pacers out-rebounded the Celtics 44-43, and the Celtics almost lost the game. In Game 2, the Celtics out-rebounded the Pacers 40-37. In Game 3, the Pacers won the rebounding battle 43-36. In the first half, when the Pacers were building their big lead, they out-rebounded the Celtics 21-10. In the 3rd quarter, when the Celtics began their come back, the Pacers out-rebounded the Celtics by just 2, 15-13. In the final quarter, when the Celtics completed their comeback and pulled ahead, the Celtics out-rebounded the Pacers 13-7. Much of rebounding is hustle, desire and effort and the Celtics have got to put out more effort on the boards than the Pacers if they want to get a win in this game.

Bench Play - The Celtics need to get help from their reserves. The Celtics bench loses a lot with Al Horford moving into the starting lineup and will take another hit with Luke Kornet's injury. In their first 2 rounds, the Pacers reserves averaged 32 points or more per game. TJ McConnell, who is a problem off the bench as he is a pesky defender and brings a lot of energy to the Pacers is averaging 11.6 points per game and finished with 23 points in Game 3. In Game 1, the Pacers got 30 points off their bench while the Celtics got just 13 points from theirs. In game 2, the Celtics got 19 points from their reserves while the Pacers got 39 points from their reserves. In Game 3, Pacers reserves finished with 31 points while the Celtics reserves had just 4 points. The Celtics need for their reserves to score and to defend well to take some of the pressure off the starters.

Effort and Focus for 48 Minutes - The Celtics have to play every minute with extra effort. The Pacers play hard and fast and so the Celtics need to match that effort and play even harder. The team that plays harder and is more aggressive is usually the team that comes out on top and that also gets the better whistle. The Celtics also have to stay focused. They have to focus on taking good shots and making them and on playing as a team and making the right play every time. They also have to keep that effort and focus up for 48 minutes with no let up and no collapse, especially on defense. They likely won't come back from a large deficit again and so the Celtics need to defend, rebound and play hard from the opening tip until the final buzzer.

Move the Ball - The Celtics are tough to beat when they keep the ball moving and they make the extra pass to find the best shot. They struggle when they lapse into iso ball and when players hold the ball too long. The Pacers move the ball very well and are 1st in the playoffs, averaging 30.1 assists per game. They racked up 38 assists on 53 field goals in Game 1. In Game 2, they had just 23 assists while the Celtics had 28 assists. In Game 3, the Pacers had 32 assists to just 24 fro the Celtics. The Celtics have to keep the ball moving and avoid lapsing into iso ball and over dribbling.

X-Factors

On The Road - The Celtics are on the road for the second straight game in the series. The Pacers are 6-1 at home in the playoffs so far and the Celtics are 5-0 on the road. During the regular season, the Celtics were 27-14 on the road while the Pacers were 26-15 at home. The Celtics can't allow the distractions of travel and a hostile crowd to take away from their focus on the game.

Closeout Game - Close out games are the hardest games to win because the opponent is desperate with their backs against the wall and tend to play harder for that reason. It is human nature for the team that is ahead to tend to let up, knowing that you have more chances to close out the series. Rick Carlisle has said that the Pacers are "going after" the Celtics and that they will be "punching harder." The Celtics need to be ready for a physical game and for everything the Pacers can throw at them. The Celtics have to play like this is their Game 7 and play like they are the ones with their backs against the wall. They need to fight human nature and be the team that plays the hardest.

Officiating -Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game a little differently with some calling it tight and others letting them play. They seem to be letting them play more in these playoffs so far, but that could change with any given crew and any given game. The Celtics have to adjust to how the game is being called and focus on the game and not on the officials.

Official Report

Crew Chief - Zach Zarba

Zarba has a home win/loss record of 43-32. He calls 50% of fouls on the road team and 50% on the home team. The Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10 games with Zarba, including the Game 3 win over Cleveland and a regular season win over the Pacers. The Pacers are 3-7 in their last 10 games with Zarba, including 1 win and 1 loss over the Knicks in Round 2 and a loss to Milwaukee in Round 1. Zarba was the crew chief in Game 1 of Knicks/Pacers where they made a crucial bad call that pretty much cost the Pacers the game.

Referee - James Capers

Capers has a home win/loss record of 29-28 this season. He calls 53% of fouls against the road team and 47% against the home team. The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games with Capers. This is his first playoff game with the Celtics. The Pacers are 8-2 in their last 10 games with Capers, including 2 wins over New York in Round 2 and a win over Milwaukee in Round 1.

Umpire - Pat Fraher

Fraher has a home win/loss record of 29-39. He calls 55% for fouls against the road team and 45% against the home team. The Celtics are 6-4 with Fraher as a ref in their last 10 games, including a loss to Indiana in the regular season. The Pacers are 3-7 in their last 10 games with Fraher.

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