Friday , Apr , 22 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Preview – Indiana vs. Boston

***** NBA Playoff Preview – Indiana vs. Boston *****
From The Sports Network

By Brian Gillespie, NBA analyst

BOSTON CELTICS: 3rd Seed, East (45-37)

INDIANA PACERS: 6th Seed, East (44-38)

(Sports Network) – There have been many times over Danny Ainge’s two-year
stint as head of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics that the critics
have taken pot shots at him. However, it appears that Ainge has gotten the
last laugh as he has put together a roster that has netted Beantown its first
Atlantic Division championship in 12 years.

The Celtics will try to ride the momentum of the division title into the
postseason, as they battle the Indiana Pacers in a best-of-seven first round
series beginning Saturday night at the FleetCenter.

It will mark the third consecutive campaign that these teams have met in the
first round. Indiana swept the Celtics in four games last season, but Boston
ousted the Pacers in six games two years ago. These teams have met four
different times in the first round with Boston take three of the sets.

Ainge pulled off the best trade deadline exchange in February, re-acquiring
Antoine Walker from Atlanta for Gary Payton, Tom Gugliotta, Michael Stewart
and a first round pick. Walker came back to team despite being traded away by
Ainge just two years ago. Meanwhile, Payton refused to report to the Hawks,
eventually receiving a buyout of his contract and re-signing with the Celtics.

With Walker, Payton and All-Star guard Paul Pierce in the fold, the Celtics
won 11 of 12 in early March to gain first place in the Atlantic and kept
Philadelphia at arm’s length the rest of the way. Boston saw its advantage
dwindle in early April after coming back to earth, but it answered with six
wins in seven games to seal the deal.

Pierce is the guy that Celtics rely on when they need a big hoop, as he is as
clutch as they come. The 27-year-old has registered 21.6 points (17th-NBA) per
contest this season to go along with 6.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.6 steals
(10th). Pierce is a very good three-point shooter, draining 37 percent of his
attempts from downtown.

The Pacers will have to pick-and-choose when they double Pierce because he can
quickly rotate the ball to the deadly Walker, who is an excellent three-point
shooter as well. Walker, who averaged 19 points and nine rebounds per contest
between Atlanta and Boston, isn’t easy to contain because he is a big man with
both perimeter and post skills. The University of Kentucky product has a
fadeaway jumper that is extremely tough to defend.

This is the Celtics’ fourth consecutive trip to the postseason after a six-
year drought in the mid-1990’s. Boston is still looking for its first NBA
title since the 1985-86 campaign. The Celtics, who have won 16 championships,
haven’t been back to the NBA Finals since 1987.

It is a relative miracle that the Pacers are where they are after all the
controversy and injuries they have suffered through this season. Following the
Motown Melee in November, the Pacers lost Ron Artest for the season and
Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson for long periods of time. Nonetheless,
Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle kept his team together and it successfully
treaded water during the time.

Once the Pacers got near to full strength in February, they won eight of 11
games to get two contests over .500. Of course, shortly thereafter O’Neal went
to the injured list with a shoulder injury that put him out for yet another
month. During his absence, Reggie Miller took the team on his shoulders and
helped it go 15-6 and lock up a postseason slot.

Miller, who is retiring after 18 seasons in the league, will be trying to earn
his last bit of playoff glory. The sharpshooter averaged 14.8 points per
contest this season, his highest average since the 2001-02 campaign. Miller
has tallied 25.279 points, an NBA-record 2.560 three-pointers, 4,182 rebounds
and 4,141 assists in his career.

Jackson, who was acquired from Atlanta for Al Harrington, has been an integral
part to the Pacers’ success this season. The 27-year-old registered 18.7
points per contest while shooting 36 percent from three-point range. Jackson
and Miller along with O’Neal’s inside dominance make for a tough trio to
handle on the defensive end.

Indiana made its way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, losing in
six games to the eventual World Champion Detroit Pistons. The Pacers have made
the postseason in eight consecutive seasons, getting to the Eastern Conference
Finals three times and the NBA Finals once. Indiana has never won an NBA
championship, but it did win three ABA titles.

The Pacers took two of three regular season meetings between these squads this
year, but both of their wins came in November. Boston won its most recent
meeting, 100-86, at the FleetCenter on January 26. Indiana has won five of
six and seven of 10 in this series.

FRONTCOURT: O’Neal, who averaged 24.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per contest this
season, is one of the toughest post players in the league to guard. His
powerful post-up game and plethora of post moves force opposing teams to
double down on him on a regular basis. Look for the Celtics to throw a bunch
of different big bodies at him in this series.

Boston head coach Doc Rivers may have to adjust his starting lineup to deal
with O’Neal, as his usual starting center Raef LaFrentz isn’t the ideal
defender against him. Thicker youngsters Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins,
and Mark Blount may end up seeing more minutes than LaFrentz in this series.
The one advantage LaFrentz provides the Celtics is that he is a very capable
three-point shooter.

The Celtics will try to counter O’Neal by causing matchup problems with
Walker. Indiana is expected to start O’Neal and Jeff Foster, neither of which
should be able to stick with Walker. Foster is a solid defender, shot blocker
and rebounder, but his speciality is defending the post.

Pierce and Jackson should be a knockdown, drag-out battle at the small forward
position. Both of the men are potent scorers and like to talk trash, which
should make things interesting.

EDGE: BOSTON

BACKCOURT: Indiana added starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley to its playoff
roster, but he won’t likely return unless the Pacers make the second round.
Anthony Johnson remains the primary ball handler for the Pacers, setting the
table for the Pacers’ variety of offensive weapons. Johnson, a veteran, is an
offensive threat in his own right. The 30-year-old has averaged nearly five
assists to just 1 1/2 turnovers this season.

Despite Johnson’s solid play, Boston should have the advantage with Payton at
the point. Payton has tallied 11.3 points and 6.1 assists for the Celtics in
77 games this season, shooting an impressive 47 percent. The ‘Glove’ should be
able to limit Johnson’s offensive opportunities.

While Indiana has Mr. Reliable in Miller at the shooting guard spot, the
Celtics have plenty of question marks at the position. It appears rookie
Delonte West will get the starting nod. West will be out of his league against
Miller, who has averaged 21.2 points a game in his playoff career. Miller
loves being a star on the league’s biggest stage and should have a huge
series.

EDGE: EVEN

BENCH: With the starting lineups being so tightly matched, it could turn out
that the benches will make the difference in this series. Boston will look to
sixth man Ricky Davis to provide an instant impact off the pine. Davis has
settled quite nicely into his role this season, posting 16 points per game
while shooting 46.7 percent from the field. The former Iowa Hawkeye must keep
his focus though, as he tends to take ill-advised shots at crucial times in
games.

Boston will also bring youngsters G Tony Allen, PG Marcus Banks, Jefferson and
Perkins off the pine. Allen is an extremely athletic rookie which could be
utilized in limited minutes as a defender in this set, while Banks will spell
Payton. Jefferson and Perkins will provide 12 fouls and the occasional
offensive output in this series.

Blount could end up starting in this series, as he is bigger than LaFrentz and
could challenge O’Neal. The seven-footer ranks seventh in the league in field
goal shooting (.529).

Indiana will likely bring shooting guard Fred Jones off the bench first, while
veteran center Dale Davis will get plenty of work off the pine. Jones is a
solid three-point shooter and a terrific dunker, while Davis is a rebounder
and defender.

The Pacers can also look to power forward Austin Croshere and rookie small
forward James Jones to hit perimeter shots off the bench. Croshere has been
hampered by a sore lower back as of late, which could limit his minutes.

EDGE: BOSTON

COACH: Carlisle has to be a frontrunner for the NBA Coach of the Year award,
as he pulled off a Houdini act in keeping his team in the thick of the playoff
race despite a long list of hurdles. The fourth-year head man, who was ran out
of Detroit in 2003 despite consecutive 50-win seasons, is 205-123 (.625) in
his coaching career. Carlisle has tallied a 22-21 postseason mark.

Rivers has been blessed with a very helpful general manager which has set him
up with a nice mix of veterans and youngsters. Just one season after being
fired from Orlando after a 1-10 start, Rivers has done a nice job keeping his
team together.

EDGE: INDIANA

PREDICTION: There is very little difference in talent between these teams, but
the fact that Artest is not around hurts the Pacers. Artest was their toughest
defender who could be matched up against Pierce in crucial moments and make
the difference in the game. Without Artest, Indiana won’t have an answer for
the clutch effort from Pierce. While Miller will do his best to keep his
career alive, the Pacers will flatline in this series in six games.

BOSTON IN SIX

BOS IND