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Ranking the 4 potential NBA Finals matchups

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The Eastern and Western Conference finals were set in stone Sunday after the Indiana Pacers and Minnesota Timberwolves punched their tickets with respective Game 7 wins over the New York Knicks and the defending champion Denver Nuggets.

With all the possible NBA Finals combinations now known, here's how we rank the four potential championship series.

4. Pacers vs. Timberwolves

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Matchup: Pascal Siakam versus Karl-Anthony Towns

No potential championship series would foreshadow a new generation in the NBA like the Timberwolves meeting the Pacers. Tyrese Haliburton (24) and Anthony Edwards (22) are among the most prominent under-25 stars in the league, and either of them leading their franchises to their first NBA title would be unforgettable.

However, it's unlikely the two would go toe-to-toe. Instead, Siakam going up against Towns might define the hypothetical series. The Pacers forward's defensive mobility and crafty offensive game could be an issue for Towns, who's occasionally struggled to stay on the floor due to foul trouble. The two also just missed competing against one another after Siakam landed in Indiana, with Towns' meniscus injury sidelining him for 18 consecutive games - the first of which was against the Pacers in March.

Though Indiana has been one of the worst defensive teams during these playoffs, their sky-high 121.7 offensive rating would arguably face its stiffest test with Minnesota's methodical two-big system.

3. Pacers vs. Mavericks

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Matchup: Pascal Siakam versus Luka Doncic

As the lowest remaining seeds, a Pacers-Mavs matchup is arguably the most unlikely outcome of the four possible scenarios. But that says little - if anything - about the entertainment factor.

Although Kyrie Irving taking on Haliburton is scintillating on its own, the most important battle would arguably be Doncic versus Siakam. The Slovenian star is a handful regardless of who Rick Carlisle elects to put on him, but Siakam is a perfect 3-0 against him this season - and two of those wins were after Siakam's January arrival in Indiana. Despite Doncic going off for 30-plus points in both losses, Siakam and the Pacers won by 22 at home and then by 17 in Dallas a week later.

Whatever Indiana's strategy, it worked. And it may be something the team revisits if the two clubs meet again in June.

2. Celtics vs. Mavericks

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Matchup: Jayson Tatum versus Luka Doncic

This matchup would feature two high-octane offenses powered by a superstar. The Celtics and Mavericks are both championship-ready squads looking to win their first titles with their core's current iteration.

There's some familiarity on both sides, as Irving once played for the Celtics. The crafty guard went through very public growing pains while learning how to become a team's No. 1 option for the first time since LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, the 32-year-old has comfortably slid behind Doncic as the second option in Dallas' potent offense.

Even during Irving's tenure in Beantown, Tatum and Jaylen Brown had the makings of stars - especially while the former missed the Celtics' run to the 2018 Eastern Conference finals behind big-time play from the young forward tandem. Since then, Boston's lost in all four rounds of the postseason, including its trip to the 2022 Finals. The Celtics fortified their rotation with more star power, bringing in former Maverick Kristaps Porzingis at the center spot and Jrue Holiday as another dependable defender along the perimeter.

The Celtics took both regular-season matchups, including a 28-point blowout in March. But with the Mavs' balanced attack around the Doncic-Irving one-two punch, Dallas has a real shot.

1. Celtics vs. Timberwolves

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Matchup: Anthony Edwards versus Jaylen Brown

Featuring team that's exceeded expectations in the postseason and a verified contender for the championship, a Boston Celtics versus Minnesota Timberwolves Finals would provide a lot of intrigue.

Edwards is dominating these playoffs, but his natural defender, Brown, seems to be a good athletic matchup. Could the three-time All-Star use his size to make him a deterrent as a perimeter defender? Moving down the lineup, Porzingis (if healthy) would presumably guard Minnesota's best big-man option, Towns. It would be worth monitoring whoever Boston hides on Rudy Gobert to see if the 7-footer can unlock something offensively and punish that matchup. Al Horford could get increased minutes or a promotion to the starting lineup to deal with the Timberwolves' twin towers. Gobert and Towns should give them an advantage on the glass; however, Boston is third in the playoffs in rebounds per game (44.9).

A Finals appearance or victory for the Timberwolves would be massive for a franchise that hadn't reached the second round of the playoffs since 2004. On the other side, a championship would be the culmination of the Celtics' unsuccessful playoff runs over the last 10 seasons with Boston finally capturing title No. 18.

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