BOSTON — The Pacers are the only team left standing in front of the Celtics and their way of reaching the NBA Finals, but the bright lights of the Eastern Conference don’t put Indiana in unchartered territory.

Months before the playoff bracket was set in stone, the Pacers visited the Celtics for the first of four regular-season matchups between the two. Boston mangled Indiana, 155-104, shooting an astonishing 57.1% from 3-point range on Nov. 1. Fast forward to Dec. 4, with a healthy Tyrese Haliburton, and the Pacers figured out the Celtics, eliminating their conference foe with a 122-112 final to punch their ticket to Las Vegas for the In-Season Tournament title game.

“It had the feel of a conference finals matchup, atmosphere,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said before Game 1 at TD Garden. “… There was certainly the exposure, the stage, all that. All those experiences help a young team.”

Carlisle added: “We have a lot of experiences playing these guys and we know how great they are.”

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The Celtics barely edged out the Pacers, going 3-2 in their five regular season battles — not including the tournament meeting. Twice, the final score ended with a single-digit points differential, hinting at the potential of the two crossing paths for a final winner-take-all battle, this time with no greater stakes involved.

Haliburton notched a 26-point, 10-rebound, and 13-assist triple-double during their battle in December while Jayson Tatum dropped a 38-point, 13-rebound double-double on Indiana in January. Eyes will be drawn to both team leaders as soon as the series tips off, giving Haliburton and Tatum an immense rise of pressure throughout the series, from start to finish.

Boston, of course, is at the forefront, having been the team benefiting the most from the misfortunes and unforeseen circumstances that occurred up to this point. The Celtics avoided guarding Jimmy Butler, didn’t face Jarrett Allen or Donovan Mitchell (for two games), and looking ahead, don’t need to worry about the defending champion Nuggets — if they reach the finals.

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If anything, it’s Boston’s series (and championship window) to squander.

“These guys have been the clear favorite all year to win the whole thing,” Carlisle said. “They ran away with the Eastern Conference. They’ve been dominant so it’s a big task — that’s clear. We just gotta try to make it as hard as possible on them.”

Getting back to work again without Kristaps Porzingis creates Boston’s biggest challenge in its effort to learn to defend its home-court advantage. The Celtics enter the conference finals 4-2 at TD Garden this postseason, in need of just four wins (in at least seven games) to reach the finals for the second time in three years.

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images