Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

Boston Celtics

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 15: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates during the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Second Round Playoffs at TD Garden on May 15, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

With the Boston Celtics Eastern Conference Finals bound once again, the only remaining question is which team they’ll face.

With their 113-98 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals. It will be their third year in a row in the ECF, and sixth appearance in the last eight seasons.

By wrapping their semifinal series up in five games the Celtics guaranteed themselves one thing – rest. They’ll have at least three days off until their next game, and could have as many as five. Just how much rest they get will come down to what happens in the other series still going around the league.

“It’s important to take advantage of the opportunities that you have. It’s a gift that we got the rest now because we took advantage of the opportunity that we had,” Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said after the game. “So, now, we can be grateful for that rest. But you don’t know, sometimes rest isn’t good for you, sometimes it is. We’ll at least take tomorrow off.”

Celtics Eastern Conference Finals
Nick Cammett/Getty Images
In his second year as head coach, Joe Mazzulla as the Celtics Eastern Conference Finals bound for the second time. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

Of course, the Celtics still need an opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals. That opponent will be either the second seed New York Knicks or the sixth seed Indiana Pacers. The Knicks won Game 5 of that series to take a 3-2 series lead on Tuesday night.

The Knicks will have a chance to close things out Friday in Indiana, where they’re 0-2 so far in the series. If the Pacers win Game 6 that series would run through Sunday, pushing the start of the ECF back to Tuesday and giving the Celtics the full five days of rest.

Even if that series ends in six games though, the Celtics still could get the full five days of rest. If the Western Conference Semifinals series between the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves goes seven games, that would also push the Celtics Eastern Conference Finals Game 1 back to Tuesday. Denver won last night to take a 3-2 series lead after starting that series with two losses. Game 6 out west is Thursday.

That all adds up to the Celtics not knowing their opponent and date of their next game until Friday at the earliest. While we wait to find out who Boston will face next round, here’s a look at the top storylines for each potential Celtics Eastern Conference Finals opponent…

  • New York Knicks

    Miami Heat v New York Knicks - Game Five

    NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 10: Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks waits for the clock to run out ending game five of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden on May 10, 2023 in New York City. The New York Knicks defeated the Miami Heat 112-103. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    There’s no shortage of storylines in a potential Celtics-Knicks Eastern Conference Finals. It runs well beyond the Boston-New York rivalry, although it would be the first time the cities have teams meet in a conference championship round since the 2004 ALCS between the Red Sox and Yankees (and the first time they’d meet this late in any playoff since the 2011 NFL season Patriots-Giants Super Bowl). This would be the first playoff meeting between the Celtics and Knicks in over a decade (they last met in the first round in 2013). 

    The biggest story in this series would be the battle between the teams’ two stars – Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brunson. Tatum and Brunson have been compared and contrasted to one another often during this regular season and playoffs as Brunson has truly surged to become one of the league’s leading stars. 

    Brunson had a better statistical season, but did so with much less of a supporting cast. He also doesn’t have the same career resume as Tatum, despite being a year older. 

    Both fan bases have talked plenty about the other teams’ star quite a bit in recent weeks. What better way to settle that debate than on the court?

    Then, there’s the Kristaps Porzingis angle. In 2024 Porzingis is viewed as the long-awaited ‘missing piece’ from this Celtics core, who can help them get over the top by adding a significant presence at the rim while still being a high-level shooter. Rewind nine years though and Porzingis was viewed as the Knicks’ potential savior, after they drafted him fourth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. 

    Porzingis’ three years in New York were viewed mostly as a disappointment, and injuries increasingly became an issue during his tenure with the Knicks. He requested a trade during the 2018-2019 season, which he missed due to a torn ACL, and was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks in January of that year. 

    Now (assuming he’s healthy), Porzingis returns to New York standing in the way of what would be their first NBA Finals appearance in a quarter century. The second-highest draft pick the franchise has had since taking Patrick Ewing first overall in 1985 now would be the villain, nine years later. 

    Finally, there’s the Tom Thibodeau connection. Thibodeau began his coaching career at Salem State in Massachusetts, where he also played collegiately. He returned to the area in 2007 and was the associate head coach on the 2007-2008 championship team working under Doc Rivers. During his three seasons in Boston, he was viewed as one of the top assistant coaches in the NBA. 

    Thibodeau has since had stops in Chicago, Minnesota, and now New York, where he’s in his fourth season. This would be the first time he’s reached the conference finals round as a head coach, and it would come against his former team. 

    The Celtics played the Knicks five times during the regular season this year. They won the first four – including the season opener – but lost at home in the third-to-last game of the year on April 11. 

  • Indiana Pacers

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 07: Tyrese Haliburton #0 of the Indiana Pacers and others on the Pacers bench react after Aaron Nesmith #23 scored and drew a foul against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half of the East semifinal game of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament at T-Mobile Arena on December 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Pacers defeated the Bucks 128-119. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 07: Tyrese Haliburton #0 of the Indiana Pacers and others on the Pacers bench react after Aaron Nesmith #23 scored and drew a foul against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half of the East semifinal game of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament at T-Mobile Arena on December 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Pacers defeated the Bucks 128-119. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    Admittedly, the storylines in a Celtics-Pacers series don’t come close to those in a Celtics-Knicks series. At the same time, these teams proved during the regular season they play entertaining basketball when on the court together.

    The Celtics and Pacers met five times in the regular season with the Celtics taking three of the five games. However the Pacers got the big one, knocking the Celtics out of the In-Season Tournament with a 122-112 win in Indianapolis back in early December.

    Offensively, the Pacers are one of the new teams in the NBA that can go punch-for-punch with the Celtics. They averaged 123.3 points per game during the regular season, which led the NBA.

    Tyrese Haliburton is the biggest name on the Pacers, but their roster also features former Celtics playoff villain Pascal Siakam. Formerly with the Raptors, Siakam played a key role on the Raptors team that knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs in the bubble in 2020. He was acquired by the Pacers at the trade deadline this year and he’s added a steadying, efficient presence.

    The Pacers also still have former Celtics draft pick Aaron Nesmith, who the Celtics traded to them prior to the 2022-2023 season in the deal that brought Malcolm Brogdon to Boston. Nesmith has emerged into a key rotational player for the Pacers, and averaged 12.2 points per game this year playing in 72 games with 47 starts.

    On the coaching front, Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle never coached in Boston. But, he did play for the Celtics from 1984 to 1987, including the 1986 championship season.

    Last time the Celtics and Pacers met in the playoffs was in 2019, which resulted in a first-round sweep for Boston. Before that they hadn’t met since 2005, which was another first-round series. The Pacers won that one in seven games. In total they’ve met six times in the playoffs – all in the first round. The Celtics have won four of the six series. 

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at [email protected].

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