The Boston Celtics were expected to be the top team in the Eastern Conference this season, but they struggled with consistency and had to turn things up down the stretch just to secure the No. 4 seed and home court in the first round of the postseason. If you had just watched their opening-round series against the Indiana Pacers, though, you wouldn't have had any idea.
After pulling away from the Pacers in the fourth quarter of Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, the Celtics completed the four-game sweep to move on to the second round for the third straight season. This was the Celtics' first sweep in a playoff series since 2011, when they took down the New York Knicks, 4-0 in the first round.
Up next, the Celtics will face the No. 1 overall seed Milwaukee Bucks in a rematch of their first-round series last season. The Bucks, themselves, made easy work of their series by sweeping the Detroit Pistons.
There will be plenty of time to discuss that intriguing matchup, but for now, here are a few takeaways from the Celtics' impressive series win over the Pacers.
Celtics take care of business
Once the Celtics and Pacers were locked into their series, many expected it to be one of the most even first-round matchups -- especially after Marcus Smart was sidelined during the round due to an oblique injury. And while the games themselves were all fairly even for long stretches, the Celtics found a way to win in all four games.
Some of it was just down to talent, but the Celtics also simply out-executed the Pacers down the stretch in each of the last three games. In the final six minutes of Games 2-4, the Celtics outscored the Pacers 61-42. That was largely the difference in the series, as the Celtics won the final three games by a combined 20 points.
More so than just beating the Pacers and moving on to the next round, it was also important that the Celtics did so in the minimum amount of games. The Bucks were expected to sweep the Pistons, but by sweeping the Pacers, the Celtics made sure the No. 1 seed wouldn't get any extra rest.
Pacers out-gunned without Oladipo
The Pacers were praised, and rightly so, for their ability to hold things together after their star man, Victor Oladipo, went down with a season-ending injury in late January. But while they still played just about .500 ball without Oladipo, there were some signs that they may have trouble in the postseason. They won just five games against playoff teams after Oladipo's injury, and two of them were against the Pistons, which doesn't really count.
And as their quick exit from the first round showed, those warning signs were real. They were still pretty solid defensively, but just didn't have enough firepower on the offensive end without their star. The Pacers were asking way too much of Bojan Bogdanovic, who had a tough time all series trying to run the show while dealing with the Celtics' best perimeter defenders. With Bogdanovic struggling -- he averaged 18 points on 39 percent shooting -- the Pacers had nowhere else to turn. Tyreke Evans was really the only other player on the team who could create his own shot, and that's just not good enough in the playoffs. When the defense really tightened up in the fourth quarter, the Pacers couldn't buy a bucket.
Hayward's play encouraging for Celtics
Gordon Hayward was a mess for much of the season as he tried to make his return from last season's devastating ankle injury. He would show flashes here and there, but still struggled with his shot and explosiveness offensively. But over the last few weeks of the season, he quietly started to put things together. Scoring in double figures in eight straight games to close the season, Hayward averaged 16 points, six rebounds and three assists on 58.5 percent shooting. It wasn't All-Star-level play, but it was solid, and that was much more than the Celtics had been getting all season.
No one quite knew what would happen in the playoffs, though, which are played at a much higher intensity than the last few weeks of the regular season. But as Hayward showed, his bounce-back stretch wasn't a fluke. Hayward was fantastic down the stretch in Game 4, scoring 20 points off the bench to help close out the Pacers, and for the series he averaged 12 points and five rebounds, while shooting 37.5 percent from downtown. Again, not spectacular, but the Celtics are a completely different team when Hayward is operating at a high level. They'll need him to keep it up if they want to upset the Bucks.