The Boston Celtics have clinched a playoff spot and are working on securing home-court advantage for the first round and beyond. They are even gunning for the top seed, but let’s process one step at a time. I thought it would be a good idea to look at some potential first-round matchups, starting with the Indiana Pacers (since they are fresh in our minds).
The Celtics swept the regular-season series against the Pacers, going 3-0. So on the surface it is safe to say that this could be a favorable matchup. But the playoffs can be a different ballgame, and Indy still has Paul George (at least for the next few months), and Jeff Teague can still fill up a box score.
Speaking of box scores, let’s take a look back at the games these teams have played each other this year.
Early in the year the Celtics played the Pacers in a game without Al Horford, Jae Crowder, or Paul George. The expected result was a guard-heavy affair with Teague and Ellis combining for 35 points and Thomas chipping 23 of his own. However, the story of the game was the unexpected contributions of some young fellas. Myles Turner finished with 17 points and 8 rebounds for the Pacers, and James Young teased us with 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in just 16 minutes.
In December the teams faced off again at full health. The result was the same, but the guards actually scored a bit more. Teague finished with 31, but Thomas stole the show with 14 of his 28 points in the 4th quarter. This was one of those games that earned him the “King in the Fourth” nickname.
This week’s game featured a lot of scoring by Paul George (finished with 37) and Teague (25), but not a lot else went right for Indy. They seemed to play with a lack of enthusiasm and couldn’t take advantage of the Celtics’ turnovers. Thomas finished with a ho-hum 25 points, but the scoring was more evenly spread out down the Boston rotation. That’s a more ideal result since the burden isn’t falling solely on Isaiah’s shoulders.
In the two games that he played, Crowder stood out in the plus/minus stats (+15 one game and +16 in the other). That’s pretty huge considering that his main defensive assignment was Paul George.
All three contests were relatively close on paper and the Celtics didn’t seem to dominate in any particular statistical category. They just played their game, took care of business, and walked away with the victory each time. Sometimes it took a little more effort on Isaiah's part and they probably should have put them away earlier in a couple games. But that’s the regular season for you.
In a playoff matchup, there’s always a chance that George and Teague could explode on offense (like they did this week) and get a little more help from their supporting cast. In theory they’d be more focused on defense and give a better overall effort. So I’m not willing to write them off as a pushover opponent. However, if the seedings shake out with Indiana as our first-round matchup, I will feel pretty confident in our chances to advance to the next round.