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Preview: Indiana Pacers at Boston Celtics Game #76

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The Celtics host the Pacers in what may be a first round playoff preview.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Pacers come to Boston for the 3rd of 4 meetings between these two teams this season. The Pacers beat the Celtics 102-101 on November 3 in Indiana. In that game, Victor Oladipo hit a 3 pointer to put the Pacers up one and then stole the inbounds pass from Gordon Hayward to seal their win. On January 9th, the Celtics beat the Pacers 135-108 in Boston. They will face each other one more time in exactly 1 week on April 5.

This game means a lot more than just one of 82. The Pacers are 1 game ahead of the Celtics in the standings. Home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs is at stake. If the Celtics win, they will tie the Pacers and own the tie breaker to move up to 4th in the East. If the Pacers win, that puts the Celtics 2 behind the Pacers and gives Indiana a big advantage to keep the 4th spot.

The Celtics are now 1 game behind Indiana, who have lost 5 of their last 6 and 9 straight on the road. They are 3.5 games behind 3rd place Philadelphia, who has lost their last 2 games. The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 26-12 at home. The Pacers are 3-7 in their last 10 games and are 17-21 on the road.

Brad Stevens made a change to the starters for the last game against the Cavaliers. Sending Marcus Morris back to the bench and starting Aron Baynes next to Al Horford gives the Celtics a bigger defensive presence in the frontcourt and that is something the Celtics need. I’m guessing that since this lineup was successful against the Cavs, Brad will stick with it for this game.

Both teams are close to full strength. The Celtics have been plagued with injuries lately but with Al Horford (knee) and Jayson Tatum (back) returning to the starting lineup on Wednesday and Robert Williams III listed as probable for this game, they are back to full strength. Gordon Hayward getting closer to 100% is also a big plus for the Celtics. The only player out for the Pacers is Victor Oladipo (knee), who is out for the season.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Semi Ojeleye
Daniel Theis
Brad Wanamaker
Guerschon Yabusele
Gordon Hayward
Jaylen Brown
Robert Williams
Marcus Morris
Greg Monroe
Terry Rozier

Injuries
Robert Williams III (back) probable

Two Way Players
PJ Dozier
RJ Hunter

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Pacers Starters

Pacers Reserves
Tyreke Evans
Aaron Holiday
Alize Johnson
Cory Joseph
TJ Leaf
Doug McDermott
Kyle O’Quinn
Domantas Sabonis

Two Way Players
Edmund Sumner
Davon Reed

Injuries
Victor Olidipo (knee) out

Head Coach
Nate McMillan

Key Matchups

Jayson Tatum vs Bojan Bogdanovic
Bogdanovic is averaging 17.9points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He is shooting 49.8% from the field and 42.3% from beyond the arc and if not defended closely, he can put up big numbers. Tatum needs to stay with him both in the paint and on the perimeter.

Aron Baynes vs Miles Turner
Turner is averaging 13.2 points, 7.0 rebounds 1.6 assists and 2.7 blocks. The Celtics always need to be aware of where he is when they go to the basket or he will swat their shots away. Baynes needs to box him out to keep him away from the rim. He also shoots 37% from beyond the arc and so the Celtics need to stay with him on the perimeter as well.

Honorable Mention
Jaylen Brown vs Domantas Sabonis
Sabonis is averaging 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. He is shooting 58.8% from the field and 53.3% from beyond the arc. In the last game against the Celtics he had 20 points and 5 assists. He can have a big game if the Celtics don’t defend him well.

Keys to the Game
Play Defense - Defense wins games. The Pacers average 107.7 points per game while the Celtics average 112.6 points per game. The Pacers have a defensive rating of 105.2, good for 3rd in the league while the Celtics have a defensive rating of 107.0, 5th in the league. The Celtics have let their defense slip in recent games, dropping to 25th in the last 5 games. Indiana is 28-2 when they score 110 or more points or more because their defense holds opponents to a league best 103.9 points per game. The Celtics had a practice on Thursday to stress defense and try to fix what has been going wrong recently so hopefully they will get back to playing the tough defense in this game that has made them so hard to beat in the past.

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. The Celtics must crash the boards as a team to beat the Pacers to rebounds. Rebounding takes effort and when the Celtics put out that extra effort on the boards, it usually follows through to the rest of their game.

Move the Ball Carefully - Both teams depend on ball movement for their offense. The Celtics need to move the ball and find the open man but they have to make careful passes and not get careless. The Pacers are 3rd in the league with 19.3 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.

Play 48 Minutes - We see it in almost every game, the Celtics either start strong and get a big lead and then let up or start slow and then have to play catch up the rest of the game. They seem to let up for a time during almost every game and they can’t afford to do that in this game. They have to play hard for 48 minutes. Start strong and play hard all the way to the final buzzer.

Bench Play - The Pacers reserves have scored at least 53 points in their last 3 games. The Pacers are 12-2 when their bench scores 50 or more and so the Celtics reserves have to play tough defense along with keeping the offense going when the starters get a rest.

X-Factors
Home Game - The Celtics are playing at home and they need to draw strength and motivation from the home crowd. The Pacers have struggled on the road recently, losing their last 9 road games. The crowd will hopefully throw the Pacers off a bit and give the Celtics an advantage in their building.

Big Game - Just as the Celtics always seem to play down to opponents, they also seem to play their best when there is a lot at stake in a game and there is definitely a lot at stake in this game. They beat the Sixers big on Christmas. They beat the Warriors out in Oakland by 33 points. They need to have a sense of urgency in this game and the Big Game Celtics need to come to play. Not only is home court advantage in the playoffs on the line, this is the team they will likely face in the first round and they don’t want to give a mental edge or any momentum to them going into the playoffs.

Bad Ref Alert - Mark Davis is the lead referee in this game and in an LA Times survey in 2016, players and coaches voted him one of the worst referees in the league so he may very well be an X-factor. Celtics fans may remember him as the ref that Rajon Rondo threw the ball at to get ejected. Here are a couple of quotes from the article about Davis:

“He’s cool as they come, but he’s so arrogant,” one player said. “He instigates things sometimes. Marc will go back at a player. He forgets that he’s talking to another man. Don’t challenge a man’s manhood. Now you are going too far.”“Marc Davis is hands down the worst,” a player said. “He acts likes he’s your friend, but he’ll just screw you. He’ll screw you and he’ll get the biggest attitude about it.”