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The Pacers are back in the Eastern Conference finals. Don’t tell them they can’t win playing fast

Schedule released for Pacers-Celtics

NEW YORK (AP) — The Indiana Pacers are headed back to the Eastern Conference finals and don’t plan to slow down when they get there.

Not when they are so good at playing fast.

Indiana put up some of the best offensive numbers in NBA history during the regular season by pushing the tempo. The pace is rarely as quick in the playoffs, but don’t tell the Pacers that slow and steady is the only way to win this race.

“I think slowly we’re changing the way of thinking in the NBA that playoffs you have to play slow,” point guard Tyrese Haliburton said, “and we’re able to just continue to be who we are.”

They were the best-shooting team in NBA playoff history Sunday in Game 7 at New York, making 67.1% of their shots in a 130-109 victory over the Knicks.

That sent the Pacers to Boston to play the top-seeded Celtics. who ran away to the best record in the league and were expected to be playing in the conference finals.

Indiana was a surprise, the No. 6 seed in the East and a team that needed to prove the way it played in the regular season could be effective in the postseason.

“Well, we’re the uninvited guest,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “So here we are, OK.”

Indiana led the NBA with 123.3 points per game in the regular season, the sixth-highest average in league history, and set a record by reaching 140 points 11 times. With a bench that Haliburton calls the best in the league, the Pacers can keep rotating in fresh players and wear down their opponents.

That firepower helped the Pacers reach the championship game of the inaugural In-Season Tournament — they beat the Celtics in the quarterfinals — but Carlisle wasn’t convinced it would hold up in a seven-game series. He made it clear to his players later in December that they needed to improve on the other end of the floor.

“I just told our guys, we are going to make a stand and we are going to get better,” Carlisle said. “We were on a historic pace offensively, but to get where we are at this moment and where we want to get in this next round and in the future, what we were doing offensively was not sustainable. It just simply was not, not if you can’t consistently guard and rebound.”

Even with a sizzling start Sunday, when their 39 points in the first quarter were the most in a Game 7 and their 76.3% shooting in the first half the most in any postseason game since 1997, when the NBA began keeping detailed play-by-play for all four quarters, the Pacers had to rely on that improved defense to put away the game.

The Knicks had a 22-point deficit down to 77-70 in the third quarter before the Pacers forced three straight turnovers, with Aaron Nesmith and Haliburton getting steals before Indiana forced New York into a five-second violation. That led to seven straight points to push the lead back up to 14.

Still, Indiana’s defense probably isn’t good enough to stop Boston in the series that begins Tuesday. To win, the Pacers are probably going to have their offense rolling.

Playing at their pace got the Pacers back into the postseason for the first time since 2020, and now it’s got them to the conference finals for the first time since 2014.

They left Madison Square Garden on Sunday with Haliburton wearing a sweatshirt with a picture of Reggie Miller making a choking sign from a playoff game against the Knicks.

Haliburton’s wardrobe may have been a throwback, but his team is playing a new style.

“I think it’s just the old-school way of thinking that you can’t play this fast in the playoffs, but I think opportunistically you can do it,” Haliburton said. “I think if we’re able to get stops, of course we can.”