Playoff Connections: Every Meaningful Tie Between Celtics, Pacers to Know for ECF

The Celtics and Pacers have many intertwining threads as they face off in the 2024 Eastern Conference Finals.
May 21, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle watches from the
May 21, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle watches from the / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers will face off in the 2024 Eastern Conference finals with an NBA Finals berth on the line. The two teams have not met in the playoffs often over the years, so it is, if anything, a fresh matchup for basketball fans everywhere. Boston and Indy last met in 2019, but overall have only gone up against one another in the postseason on six occasions over the years.

Nevertheless, there are many ties that bind these two historic franchises. Even in the absence of heated and/or recent playoff rivalries. Here we'll break down those ties to enrich the ECF matchup at hand and make every game a little more interesting.

Rick Carlisle

As will undoubtedly be mentioned more than a few times over the course of this series, current Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle used to play for the Celtics. Carlisle was drafted by Boston in the 1984 NBA draft with the 70th pick after his playing career at the University of Virginia. Selected at the height of the Celtics' dynasty, Carlisle played alongside Larry Bird and the other Hall of Famers littering the roster for four seasons.

He, admittedly, did not play very often. Carlisle averaged 2.2 points per game in his time in Boston. But he was part of the 1986 championship team and that ring never goes away.

Aaron Nesmith

In terms of on-court relevance there is no stronger connection between Boston and Indiana than Nesmith. He was taken by the Celtics with the 14th pick in the 2020 NBA draft and played alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for two years. He is very familiar with this version of the Celtics and they are definitely familiar with him. Neismith was sent to Indiana ahead of the 2022-'23 season as part of the Malcolm Brogdon trade.

It was maybe the best move possible for Nesmith's career. He is an entirely different player now than he was in Boston. He struggled to crack the rotation of the Celtics as they pushed to contend, averaging only 12.7 minutes per game over his two seasons in green. Nesmith always brought the energy he is now known for but he couldn't do anything else at a high level, shooting 31.8% from deep and 41.7% from the floor without racking up rebounds or assists.

Now, though, Nesmith is a critical rotation player for a playoff team. This last season was his best, as the Vanderbilt product averaged 12.1 points per game while shooting 41.9% from three-point land in 27.7 minutes per game. He found a home where he could work out the kinks in his game with high minute totals, something he was never going to get in Boston, and signed a $30 million contract extension last offseason as a result.

Larry Bird

While Neismith and Carlisle represent the two most relevant connections between the Celtics and the Pacers, Larry Bird is the most historic and perhaps the most meaningful for both teams.

Bird, of course, grew up in Indiana, starred at Indiana State, and went on to have a Hall of Fame career for the Celtics. After retiring he spent five years as a special assistant in Boston before becoming the Pacers' head coach ahead of the 1997-'98 season. He found immediate and significant success at the end of the bench. Bird led the Pacers to three consecutive Conference Finals appearances and the franchise's lone NBA Finals appearance, amassing a 147-67 record. He resigned after Indy lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 NBA Finals.

But Bird was not done in Indiana. In 2003 he was hired as the franchise's president of basketball operations, a role he held until 2012. At that time he announced he was stepping down due to health reasons. One year later he was hired for the same position once again, and stepped down for the last time in 2017. Bird remained with the team in an "advisory capacity" until 2022.

Most recently, the Pacers announced in June 2023 that they had hired Bird once more as a consultant.

Celtics-Pacers Playoff History

As previously stated, the Celtics and Pacers do not boast an extensive postseason rivalry. But they have met six times. Boston holds the all-time lead, with four series wins to Indy's two. Collectively they were not the most meaningful playoff matchups but they did give the basketball world a few great moments, including the classic "Right in Harrington's face!" shot from Paul Pierce.

Here's a breakdown of when the Celtics and Pacers have met in the playoffs and who won each series.





First round

Celtics win, 3-2


First round

Celtics win, 3-0


First round

Celtics win, 4-2


First round

Pacers win, 4-0


First round

Pacers win, 4-3


First round

Celtics win, 4-0

Hopefully all this information gives insight into the history behind this year's ECF matchup. Enjoy the games!

Liam McKeone


Liam McKeone is a Senior Writer for the Breaking & Trending News Team at Sports Illustrated. In addition to his role as a writer, he collaborates with other teams across Minute Media to help define his team’s content strategy. He has been in the industry as a content creator since 2017, and prior to joining SI in 2024, Liam worked for NBC Sports Boston and The Big Lead. In addition to his work as a writer, he has hosted the Press Pass Podcast covering sports media and The Big Stream covering pop culture. A graduate of Fordham University, Liam is always up for a good debate and enjoys loudly arguing about sports, rap music, books, and video games. Liam has been a member of the National Sports Media Association (NSMA) since 2020.