Boston Celtics

Pacers coach talks up Celtics as ‘clear favorite' ahead of East Finals

Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle showed his respect to the top-seeded Boston Celtics.

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Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle spoke highly of the team he'll face off against in the Eastern Conference Finals ahead of Tuesday night's series opener, acknowledging the Boston Celtics will be tremendously tough to beat.

"Well, these guys have been the clear favorite all year to win the whole thing," Carlisle said of the Celtics. "They ran away with the Eastern Conference -- they've been dominant."

Finishing with an NBA-best 64-18 regular season record, 14 games above the second-seeded New York Knicks -- who were eliminated by the Pacers in seven games in the last round -- the Celtics proved themselves worthy of the No. 1 seed.

Throughout the regular season, the Celtics ranked first in offensive rating, net rating, turnover percentage, and percentage of points from 3s, with second-place rankings in defensive rating and effective field goal percentage. They finished top-seven in every other category aside from their offensive rebounding percentage, where they finished 17th.

Finishing off the Miami Heat in just five games in the opening round of the playoffs, the Celtics continued to show they would be the team to beat by topping the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-1 in the conference semifinals.

"It's a big task, that's clear," Carlisle added of needing to get past Boston to advance. "We've just got to make it as hard as possible on them."

The Celtics won three of their five regular-season meetings with the Pacers. Their second matchup ended in favor of Indiana thanks to a triple-double from Tyrese Haliburton -- with six other Pacers players additionally logging double-digit points -- as Indiana went on to eliminate Boston from the In-Season Tournament.

In their most recent matchup, taking place at the end of January, Brown and Tatum's combined 55 points were enough to extinguish former Celtic Aaron Nesmith's 26-point "revenge" game as Boston logged a five-point win.

With key big man Kristaps Porzingis still sidelined with a calf injury, the Celtics will look to take an early series lead with their homecourt advantage in Games 1 and 2 before heading to Indiana for Game 3.

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