Juggernaut Celtics await in Eastern Conference finals as Knicks, Pacers battle in second-round series

Peter Sblendorio, New York Daily News on

Published in Basketball

NEW YORK — The prize awaiting the victor of the Knicks and Pacers’ second-round slugfest is a meeting in the Eastern Conference finals with basketball’s biggest juggernaut.

That would be the Boston Celtics, who, after rolling to an NBA-best 64-18 record in the regular season, booked their ticket to the third round of the playoffs with a series-clinching victory against the undermanned, overmatched Cleveland Cavaliers in Wednesday night’s Game 5.

It’s the third year in a row the Celtics advanced to conference finals, and the sixth time in eight years.

“It just shows the character of the team, the organization,” Celtics star Jayson Tatum said Wednesday of the sustained success. “People might think it’s a given that we’re supposed to be here, but I give a lot of credit to everybody in the front office, the coaching staff, the trainers, the guys that hand out the equipment, the ball boys, the cooks, the chefs, the security team. We’re all in this together.”

Now in his seventh NBA season, Tatum is set to appear in his fifth conference finals. His All-Star running mate, Jaylen Brown, is about to appear in his sixth. The Celtics have yet to win a championship with Tatum or Brown, coming closest in 2022, when they lost in six games in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

They hope this year is different. After last year’s trip to the conference finals ended with a disappointing loss in Game 7 to the Miami Heat, the Celtics reloaded in the offseason, adding battle-tested point guard Jrue Holiday and mismatch-nightmare center Kristaps Porzingis to the dynamic duo of Tatum and Brown.


The Celtics won seven more games than any other team in the regular season. They went 37-4 at home. At no point did they suffer more than three losses over a seven-game stretch. An opponent would have to beat them four times out of seven, of course, to eliminate them in a postseason series.

Boston breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, disposing of the Jimmy-Butler-less Heat and the Cavaliers, who by the end were without calf-compromised Donovan Mitchell, in five games apiece.

The Celtics now get at least three days off, and possibly more depending on how the remaining series affect the TV schedule. That should help Porzingis, who missed the past six games with a calf strain and hopes to return during the conference finals.

The Knicks and Pacers, meanwhile, continue their hard-fought series Friday night. The Knicks lead 3-2, but both losses came in Indiana, where Game 6 is set to take place.


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