Game 1 Time: NOON CST (TNT)
Spread: BOS -7
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Indiana Pacers were thought to be cooked when its star Victor Oladipo went down with a season-ending injury. Not so soon. The rest of the roster stepped up and rallied Indiana to a No. 5 seed and a first-round showdown with the limping Boston Celtics. Indy concluded the season with 48 wins and drew the #4 seeded Boston Celtics in a closely-contested first-round matchup. The Celtics are 7-point favorites at home where it fared 28-13 this season. The Pacers was 19-22 on the road this season. The game will tip off at NOON (CST) Sunday on TNT.
For the Indiana Pacers, Oladipo represented the heart and soul of an underrated team trying to climb its way up in the Eastern Conference. Losing him presumably put the caps on a prematurely defined season, but it did no such things. Domantas Sabonis and Bojan Bogdanovic instead became the saviors of a sneaky-good Pacers team that could upend the more respected C’s in this series. Sabonis, son of legend Aryvdas, finished the season with averages of 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.0 steals/blocks in just 24.8 minutes a night.
Locked into a time-share with starting center Myles Turner, the Pacers have achieved a nice balance. While Turner is not quite the offensive threat Sabonis is, he is one of the league’s premier defenders (3.5 blocks/steals per game) and a key feature of the Pacers stringent defense.
Veteran Thaddeus Young is an underrated stretch-4, and the Pacers have some solid depth and veteran leadership both in its starting-5 and in its second unit. Indy ranked No. 1 in the Association in Team Defense, holding opponents to just 104.7 points per game. Indy also is a strong offensive team, though it ranks in the bottom-third of scoring output. The Pacers still rank in the top-10 in assisted baskets.
The Pacers did lose six of its final 10 regular season games including 2 of its last three, but not many are quick to sleep on Indy after its second half illustrated this team has more chemistry and talent than anticipated perhaps. With a reserve core that includes a couple of dangerous shooters in Cory Joseph and Wes Matthews, the Pacers will look to upend Boston with its sneaky-good roster.
The Boston Celtics are to be without key reserve Marcus Smart, and his defense would have been useful in this series: It is an understated loss to a Celtics team that could be labeled as an underachieving unit int 2018-19. Perhaps Boston now turns it on, but many things did not occur this season that many may have accepted as likely for the Celtics. Among those is the stunted growth of Jayson Tatum’s career, as the talented second-year swingman from Duke failed to make tremendous strides from his impressive rookie season.
Jaylen Brown, too, stagnated. The Celtics still boast perhaps one of the best top-9 rotations in the Association, but it is littered with players who simply fell short. Even so, to write-off, the talents of players who are generally underrated anyway would be hasty. Al Horford is made for playoff basketball, and the Celtics are still guided by the mastermind that is Brad Stevens. However, the Pacers should pose a strong threat in this series as underdogs. Boston is the more talented team on paper, but it has failed to make the necessary and expected improvements that once rendered it a true contender, at least in the East. Kyrie Irving is a clutch postseason performer and he could bail Boston out, but without everyone beginning to play to their relative expectations look for the Pacers to pull the small 5 over 4 seed upset.
Prediction: Pacers in 6