Kyrie Irving’s favorite time of the season is finally here.
The Celtics’ playoff run starts Sunday afternoon against the Indiana Pacers, a familiar opponent from the last days of the regular season. The Celtics played the Pacers on March 29 and again on April 5 and won both games.
Here is what experts around the country are predicting for the Celtics in the NBA playoffs:
Zach Buckley, Bleacher Report: Celtics will advance to the second round but fall to the Bucks.
Buckley noted how consistently inconsistent the Celtics have managed to play throughout this season and warned that it could only grow worse without Marcus Smart in the lineup for the first round. However, he pointed to Gordon Hayward’s apparent upswing in the final weeks of the regular season as a reason to believe this year’s Celtics team can rise closer to pre-season expectations.
The Pacers went 10-14 after the All-Star break and finally started to falter without Victor Oladipo, who was injured in late January. Buckley ultimately picked the Celtics over the Pacers in six games in round one because the Pacers will lack that star power.
The second round will be another story, according to Buckley.
“A side-by-side roster comparison might lead you to believe this series would be a coin flip, if not one favoring the Shamrocks,” he wrote. “But conventional wisdom goes out the window with Giannis Antetokounmpo, the glitch in any defensive system.”
Antetokounmpo averaged 31 points over three games played against the Celtics this year. In Buckley’s opinion, that star power will overwhelm any defense, even the Celtics’, which was rated within the NBA’s top ten in defensive rating.
Ultimately, Bleacher Report has the Celtics losing to the Bucks in six games.
The Athletic: Celtics over Pacers in six games in the first round.
Zach Harper wrote that the Celtics should be most concerned with their lack of consistency on offense throughout the season. He cited Kyrie Irving’s call-outs of his younger teammates and Marcus Morris’s February comments about not having fun as evidence that the Celtics can not claim consistently night in and night out.
Celtics writer Jay King offered some comments for the piece, saying the Celtics’ depth should remain an advantage.
“Still, this season has been so rocky the Celtics haven’t always even liked themselves,” King wrote. “To make a deep playoff run, they would need to escape the stench of a weird regular season and drop some of the maddening habits that limited them to fourth place in the East. If that doesn’t happen, this team will be remembered as a disappointment.”
Harper cited the pick-and-roll as something to watch during Celtics-Pacers, reporting that the Celtics are one of the NBA’s best pick-and-roll offensive teams, while the Pacers excel at defending the pick-and-roll.
Sean Deveney, Sporting News: Celtics over Pacers in five games.
“Indiana can slow down games and turn them into a slog, which is likely to mean some unsightly stretches of basketball as coach Nate McMillan attempts to keep things close,” Deveney wrote. “But this is a good matchup for Boston, a team that simply has too much talent for the shorthanded Pacers.”
Sporting News noted the Pacers’ fall in offensive efficiency after Oladipo’s injury and pointed to Bojan Bogdanovic as the team’s best hope against the Celtics. Even so, the Celtics remain too talented to sway a prediction in Indiana’s favor.
Deveney cited Aron Baynes as a key defender for the Celtics when the Pacers attempt to feed the ball inside.
Colin Cowherd, Fox Sports: The Celtics will probably beat the Pacers in five games.
“Indiana is a great story,” Cowherd said on his Fox Sports radio show. “But once they lost Victor Oladipo their ceiling got way lower.”
Cowherd argued that the Pacers played their way into the playoffs based on hard defense and sheer effort. Effort, he said, does not mean as much in the NBA playoffs because everybody is working harder.
The Celtics and Pacers played twice in the last days of the NBA regular season. The Celtics won both games and blew Indiana out 117-97 on April 5. Cowherd does not believe it will be close in the postseason.
ESPN: “If the Celtics are going to survive Smart’s absence, it will be because [Jaylen] Brown can step into the role Smart has vacated.”
ESPN.com’s analysis of every playoff team hits all the notes, highlighting the team’s inconsistency problems, rumors of inner turmoil, and the troubles that losing Marcus Smart through two rounds will pose. The key to overcoming those woes? Jaylen Brown. ESPN argues that Brown has been among the Celtics’ best players since Jan. 1, and in that time he has scored 13.7 points per game and averaged 4.3 rebounds mostly playing off the bench.
On First Take Thursday morning, analyst and former NBA player Ryan Hollins said the Celtics will upset the Bucks in the second round and that Giannis Antetokounmpo would falter late in games. When asked who on the Celtics would stop the potential league MVP, Hollins offered a simple explanation.
“Al Horford. Aron Baynes. The guys that knocked [the Bucks] out of the playoffs last year.”
USA Today: Celtics beat Pacers in six or seven games, but the Bucks will prove too much in another long series.
All five USA Today writers polled picked the Celtics to beat the Pacers in the first round. Three said it would take six games. Two said it would require all seven.
In the second round? All five writers picked the Bucks to beat the Celtics. However, four of the five picked the series to go to seven games.
Yahoo Sports: Celtics lose in round two to the Bucks.
All four Yahoo Sports writers polled picked the Celtics to knock the Pacers out in the first round. Three of those four writers said they will lose to the Bucks in round two. Three of four predict the series will go the distance.