The Celtics return home from their 3 game road trip to host the Indiana Pacers. This is the 4th and final meeting between these two teams in the regular season. The Pacers won the last game between these two teams 97-91 on February 9 in Boston. The Celtics won the first two games in Indiana 108-98 on November 25 and 112-111 on a Rozier buzzer beater on December 18. The Pacers will be wearing their Hickory uniforms for this one.
The Celtics have won two straight games and are 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 23-11 at home. The Pacers are looking for their second straight win and are 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Pacers have the 2nd most wins (18) in the league since January 6. They last played on Friday when they beat the Hawks at home while the Celtics last played Friday in Minnesota.
The Celtics remain 2nd in the East, now 3 games behind the Raptors who beat Houston at home on Friday and the Knicks on the road on Sunday. The Celtics are 7.5 games ahead of the Cavaliers who are currently 3rd in the East. This game is important to keep pace with the Raptors who will likely beat the tanking Knicks on Sunday. The Raptors are 28-5 at home and it should be in the Celtics best interest to try to get home court advantage in the playoffs against them.
The Pacers have been playing very well this season, especially since January. They are 5th in the East, and tied with the Wizards for 4 with the Wizards holding the tie breaker. But they are just half a game behind Cleveland for the 3rd spot and are 2 ahead of Philly for 6th. They are also 8 games ahead of Detroit who is currently just out of the playoffs in 9th place.
Jaylen Brown will be out for this game with the concussion he suffered against the Timberwolves. He didn’t suffer any structural damage in the shoulder, back or neck but is in the league concussion protocol and so may miss up to a week. In the meantime, Brad Stevens isn’t sure who he will start in his place. The Celtics will be even more short handed with Al Horford expected to miss this game with an illness.
When Kyrie missed the game against the Bulls, Brad opted to start Shane Larkin so as not to interfere with the chemistry that has built with the Celtics’ second unit. He said that he isn’t sure if he will start Smart or Rozier or if he will go the same way as the Bulls game and start Nader, Ojeleye, or Larkin to preserve the unity of the second unit. My guess is Nader, who was the D-League MVP last season, or, possibly Semi Ojeleye for his defense on Oladipo.
I’m just going to guess that Marcus Smart will start for Brown because his defense will be needed there and Marcus Morris will start for Horford, just because. Sean Grande just announced that these indeed will be the starters for the Celtics: Irving, Smart, Tatum, Morris, and Baynes.
The Pacers have no one on their injured list. Darren Collison, their starting point guard, returned from arthroscopic surgery against the Hawks on Friday. He hasn’t played since February 3 and was limited to 17 minutes in his return. He added 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 5 assists off the bench. It’s possible that he may return to the starting lineup for this game, but Joseph is still listed as the starter in their game notes.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Guerschon Yabusele (Red Claws) day to day
Jaylen Brown (concussion) out
Al Horford (illness) out
Two Way Players
Probable Pacers Starters
Two Way Players
Marcus Smart vs Victor Oladipo
This is a very key matchup as Oladipo is Indiana’s top scorer and slowing him down will be very important. He scored 35 and 38 in his last two games vs the Celtics. He is averaging 24.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 2.2 steals. He is shooting 48% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. Slowing down Oladipo will go a long way toward getting a win over the Pacers. Brad could go with Smart or Rozier here, but he also may use Nader, Ojeleye, Larkin or even someone else.
Jayson Tatum vs Bojan Bogdanovic
Bogdanovic is averaging 14.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists. He is shooting 48% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. Tatum needs to stay with him both in the paint and on the perimeter.
Celtics Bench vs Pacers Bench
In the 3 games so far against the Pacers, their reserves came up big for them. Domantas Sabonis came up big in 2 of the games with 19 points and 7 rebounds in one game and 17 points and 7 rebounds in the other. Sabonis is averaging 11.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the year. Lance Stephenson is also playing well, averaging 9.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
The Celtics reserves have been playing exceptionally well, leading Brad Stevens to consider keeping the 2nd unit together and starting a non-rotational player in Brown’s place. The Celtics bench has been averaging 52.4 points since the All Star break. They had 65 points vs Detroit, 61 points vs Charlotte, 67 points vs Houston, 52 points vs Memphis, 44 points vs Chicago and 42 points vs Minnesota. They need to keep it up in this game vs Indiana’s tough bench.
Keys to the Game
Rebound - The Celtics must box out and crash the boards. They can’t score without the ball and it will take extra effort on their part to grab the rebounds. In the first game between these two teams, the Pacers out-rebounded the Celtics 36-30. In the second, the Celtics and Pacers were even with 38 rebounds each. In the Pacers win, they out-rebounded the Celtics 53-38. The Celtics must crash the boards as a team and beat the Pacers to the rebounds if they want a win in this one.
Be Aggressive - I already mentioned that the Celtics must be aggressive on the boards, but they also must be aggressive on defense, in going after loose balls, and just all around going all out. They have to aggressively attack the basket. They need to start the game with that aggressive attitude and be aggressive through the whole game with no let up. They can’t let the Pacers be the team that works harder.
Play Defense - Defense wins games. The Pacers are the 6th best 3 point shooting team in the league, shooting 37.1% from beyond the arc and so the Celtics have to close out on their outside shooters. They also must play better defense in the paint as the Pacers average 44.3 points in the paint. The Pacers average 106.1 points per game while the Celtics average 104.6 points per game. The Celtics have the best defensive rating at 101.4 while the Pacers have a defensive rating of 105.5 (14th). If the Celtics want to get a win in this game, they must make playing tough defense a priority.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man. The Pacers are 4th in the league with 18.2 points off turnovers per game and so the Celtics must focus on making good passes and be aware of the Pacers ability to close out the passing lanes. If the Celtics get careless, the Pacers will make them pay as they are also 3rd in fast break points with 15.0 per game.
Play 48 Minutes - Since the All Star break, the Celtics have been doing a good job of starting strong and playing hard throughout the game. Hopefully they won’t slip back into the pattern of slow starts or getting a lead and then allowing their opponent to come back. They have to play hard for 48 minutes. Start strong and play hard all the way to the final buzzer.
Home Game - The Celtics are back home after a 3 game road trip. They need to draw strength and motivation from the home crowd. Also, the Pacers haven’t been a strong road team with 15 wins and 16 losses and so the Celtics need to come out strong and take advantage of being at home.
Next Man Up - With Jaylen Brown out, the player that Brad picks to fill his spot in the starting lineup will be very important because they will be tasked with slowing down Victor Oladipo, who has been on fire. Hopefully whoever Brad picks will be up to the task and the rest of the team will step up their game to fill in for the missing Brown. Al Horford is also a late scratch with an illness. This will likely disrupt the second unit, no matter who starts. Everyone will have to pick up their game to help the Celtics win this one.
Revenge Factor - The Pacers beat the Celtics on their home court in February when these two teams last met. The Celtics need to keep that in mind and use it as motivation to avenge that loss and win the season series 3-1 with a win in this game.