This is the first of 3 meetings between these two teams this season. It is their first meeting since the Celtics swept the Pacers in the first round of last year’s playoffs. They will meet again on March 10 in Indiana and on April 2 in Boston. The Celtics won the series 3-1 last season. The Celtics lead the series all time 98-79 but trail in the series 36-52 in games played in Indiana.
The Celtics are playing in on the first night of back to back games. They will play the 76ers at home on Thursday. This is their 3rd back to back set this season. They are 1-1 in the first game of those two back to backs. Both teams last played on Wednesday night. The Celtics beat the Cavs at home while the Pacers lost to the Clippers at home.
Both teams are 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are 7-5 on the road and have won their last 4 games and 6 of their last 7. The Pacers are 9-3 at home and are coming off a loss. They have lost 3 of their last 6 games. The Pacers are also 2-6 against teams that are over .500.
The Pacers have a strong inside game with Sabonis and Turner while the Celtics are more perimeter oriented with strong wings. Both teams have a balanced attack. The Pacers have all 5 starters averaging in double figures. The Celtics have 4 starters averaging in double figures with the 5th starter, Daniel Theis, averaging just 6.7 points per game. The Celtics have just Marcus Smart off the bench with double figures while the Pacers have no one off the bench in double figures.
Marcus Smart missed Monday’s game with an eye infection. He is listed as questionable for this game and will be a game time decision. Rob Williams will miss his second straight game with a hip injury but may return for Thursday’s game. Romeo Langford has been cleared to play tonight.
Victor Oladipo remains out for the Pacers with a knee injury. He is practicing with the Pacers’ G-League team and has done some 5 one 5 drills but there is no timetable as to when he will return. JaKarr Sampson is doubtful with a back injury. He has been out since November 16th.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams (hip) out
Marcus Smart (eye) questionable
Two Way Players
Probable Pacers Starters
Victor Oladipo (knee) out
JaKarr Sampson (back) doubtful
2 Way Players
Brian Bowen II
Kemba Walker vs Malcolm Brogdon
Brogdon is playing very well for the Pacers and is averaging 19 points, 4.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists. He is shooting 47.3% from the field and 34.6% from beyond the arc. He has a height advantage over Kemba but Kemba has a speed advantage.
Gordon Hayward vs TJ Warren
Warren is averaging 18.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.1 steals. He is shooting 51.5% from the field and 40.5% from beyond the arc. The Celtics must stay with him, especially on the perimeter or he will have a big game.
Jayson Tatum vs Domantas Sabonis
Sabonis is averaging 18.4 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He is shooting 51.9% from the field but just 20.8% from beyond the arc. He has 8 straight double doubles in his last 8 games. The Celtics need to try to keep him out of the paint and off of the boards.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins Championships and for certain, defense will decide this game. The Celtics are third in the league with a defensive rating of 102.6. The Pacers are 8th with a defensive rating of 104.1. The Celtics average 110.7 points per game while the Pacers average 109.2 points per game. The Celtics need to clamp down on defense from the start and keep it up until the final buzzer.
Rebound - Rebounding takes effort and desire and usually the team that wins the rebounding battle will come out on top in the game. The Celtics are averaging 45.8 rebounds to 44.5 for Indiana. The Celtics must continue to crash the boards as a team to beat the Pacers to rebounds in this game. Rebounding takes effort and the Celtics must put out the extra effort to beat the Pacers on the boards.
Be Aggressive The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team on the road, especially. They have to be aggressive going to the basket and getting into the paint. They have to be aggressive in beating the Pacers to loose balls and rebounds. They have to be the more aggressive team on defense and they have to play harder than the Pacers for 48 minutes.
Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics must come out playing hard from the tip on both offense and defense and they have to continue that until the final buzzer sounds. The Pacers will be looking to get back on track and also to avenge their loss in the playoffs. I expect them to come out strong and so the Celtics will need to match their energy. They can’t afford to have an offensive drought or to have a defensive let down. They must play hard from start to finish.
Move the Ball - The Celtics play best when they keep the ball moving and when they keep moving on both offense and defense. The Pacers play at a slower pace and the Celtics need to force them to play at a faster pace and force them out of their comfort zone.
Road Game - The Celtics are on the road for one game before going back home for the second half of the back to back. I’m sure the Pacers fans remember being swept by the Celtics and they will be hostile and loud. The players have to focus on the game and block out all the distractions that come with playing on the road. The Pacers are a good home team and so it will take extra effort and teamwork for the Celtics to win this one. They can’t let the crowd and the Pacers, who will be more aggressive at home, fluster them and take them out of the game.
Officiating - I know that I say this every game, but the officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game differently, whether they call every little ticky tack foul or they let a lot of contact go and let the teams play. Some refs favor the home team and some not so much. The Celtics have got to adjust to the way the game is being called and not let the officiating distract them from playing their game.