BOSTON -- The Celtics will play the Pacers in Indiana on Monday night, with the hopes that this turns into a rather fun road trip. Monday night's winner will advance to Thursday night's semifinals in the NBA In-Season Tournament, which will take place among all the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas.
There is no more point differential to worry about anymore. Monday night's winner gets to go spend a few days in Sin City and play for a shiny new trophy, while the loser simply gets to go home and await an opponent on Friday night. The Celtics clearly want to win this thing and take home the first-ever NBA Cup, which was on display as they kept pouring it on against the Bulls last week to help their chances to win Group C.
In the end, running things up on the Bulls was enough for Boston to win their group and advance to the knockout round. Here's what you need to know heading into Monday night's tilt.
The Pacers easily won Group A in the East
While the Celtics had to sweat things out in Group C and do some scoreboard watching (and manipulating) during the final game of the group stage, the Pacers ran away with Group A in the East. Indy was a perfect 4-0 and was a plus-39, with wins over the Cavaliers, 76ers, Hawks, and Pistons in group play.
That earned Indiana the two-seed in the East, while Boston had to settle for the three-seed at 3-1 with a plus-27 differential.
The Celtics crushed the Pacers last month
That is an understatement. The Celtics absolutely demolished the Pacers, 155-104, at TD Garden back on Nov. 1.
Boston shot 56.8 percent from the floor (54-for-95) and hit 57.1 percent of their threes (20-for-35), while the Pacers were a gruesome 5-for-37 from deep that night.
Jayson Tatum dropped 30 points while pulling down a dozen rebounds for Boston that night, while Derrick White added 18 points. The Celtics also got a great performance from the bench, as Boston reserves scored 63 points out of their bench, led by a 17-point effort from Sam Hauser and 15 points from Payton Pritchard.
The Pacers didn't have their star player in Tyrese Haliburton for that game, which was a pretty big deal. But Indiana may find themselves in that same predicament Monday night.
The Pacers may be shorthanded
Haliburton, who leads Indiana with 27.0 points and 11.8 assists over his 16 games so far, is questionable with an illness that kept him out of Saturday night's win over the Heat. The Pacers still scored 144 points without their star point guard, but they're the NBA's best offense when he's out there. His absence on Monday night would be a big blow to Indiana's chances. His presence would be a great test for Boston's defense.
Indiana's Obi Toppin is also listed as questionable with a left ankle sprain he suffered against the Heat, while Jalen Smith has already been ruled out with a left knee bone bruise.
As for the Celtics, they'll be without Kristaps Porzingis for the fourth straight game as the big man deals with a calf strain.
Offense vs. Defense
That is really what this one boils down to. The Celtics have the second-best defense in the NBA right now with a 107.6 defensive rating. The Pacers have the most dangerous offense at 128.8 points per game.
Something is gonna give on Monday.
Monday night's winner will advance to the semifinals and play the winner of Tuesday night's Knicks-Bucks matchup Thursday night in Las Vegas. If the Celtics lose, they'll head back to Boston and play the loser of Tuesday night's game at TD Garden on Friday.
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