Pondering the Pacers: Bring on the Celtics

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It’s Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals. Jayson Tatum just baptized LeBron James, the roof of the TD Garden is about to blow, and Brad Stevens is flexing a Jimmy Neutron-esque IQ.

The Boston Celtics came within one game of the NBA Finals with a 20-year-old rookie as their best player, Terry Rozier as their starting point guard, and Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward on the sidelines. The C’s were poised to become the next dynasty, surely the next Eastern powerhouse with King James in LA.

A little less than one year later, Boston’s staring at the fifth seed in the conference, their chemistry is nonexistent, Marcus Smart is still shooting threes, and they’re nowhere near their preseason over/under win total of 67. If I would’ve told you that the Bucks would be conclusively better than Boston and the Pacers would have home-court over them without Victor Oladipo, you would’ve laughed in my face.

At this point, it’s almost certain that the Pacers and Celtics will square off in the first round. On paper, it shouldn’t be close: Darren Collison vs Kyrie? Bojan Bogdanovic vs Tatum? No Oladipo? On to the next one, you might think.

Think again, my friends. If you’re a Pacers fan, you should want the Celtics in the first round. Indy’s that kind of team that just doesn’t care, and I mean that as a compliment. They don’t care who scores, they don’t care who brings the ball up, they don’t care about padding the stat sheet. They only care about getting the job done.

Boston, on the other hand, has been in limbo all year. Even with a guy like Kyrie Irving on the roster, it’s unclear who the alpha male is on the Celtics. Two reasons they were almost able to make the Finals last season were team play and excellent defense. Would Irving have put them over the top against Cleveland? Probably. But everybody bought in, everybody was on board, and everybody just wanted to win. It didn’t matter who scored, who had the ball at the end of the night, it just didn’t matter.

Tatum has hit the sophomore wall like a DeLorean at 88 mph. Believe me, he’s wishing he could go back in time right now, especially with how his ball-handling and free throw attempts have been glaringly absent this year. Al Horford, who was Boston’s MVP last season, has been hindered by injuries in recent weeks. If he’s not 100% come playoff time, Domas Sabonis is going to feast like he’s at a Chinese buffet.

I don’t mean to bash Boston and the hometown guys in Stevens and Hayward, but they just haven’t been what they were supposed to be. At this moment, right now, on March 29, the Pacers should want the Celtics in Round 1. Would I bet my life on winning the series? No. But I just can’t ignore the similarities between the ‘19 Pacers and the ‘18 Celtics. Teamwork will prevail.

Bring ‘em on, I say. Bring ‘em on.


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