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A recipe for success: Takeaways from the Celtics and Pacers regular season matchups

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Boston handled business against Indiana with relative ease by staying true to their strengths

NBA: Boston Celtics at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Before we can move forward to the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers meeting in the 2019 NBA Playoffs, it’s important to look back. The Celtics and Pacers met four times during the 2018-19 regular season. Boston won the season series by a 3-1 margin. That seems to portend good things for the Celtics in the upcoming playoff matchup, but you have to be careful about overrating things from the regular season too much. That said, there are some things we can take from each game that should carry over to the playoffs.

For reference, here is how the regular season played out:

Game 1 - at Indiana – Pacers 102 – Celtics 101

Game 2 – at Boston – Celtics 135 – Pacers 108

Game 3 – at Boston – Celtics 114 – Pacers 112

Game 4 – at Indiana – Celtics 117 – Pacers 97

Game 1 Takeaways

1. With Marcus Smart out, a lot of people are going to have to step up, but first and foremost is Jaylen Brown. Brown is the likely replacement in the starting lineup for Smart, which means he’ll probably open games guarding Bojan Bogdanovic. Equally as important will be Brown’s impact on offense. He’s more athletic than anyone the Pacers can put on the floor. He’ll get points simply by making plays using his athleticism like he does here:

2. Part of Boston’s success will be defending the three-point line. Every regular in the Indiana rotation is capable of stepping out and hitting the three. The Celtics finished seventh in the NBA in opponent three-point percentage. Part of the key is to defend by running out “high and hard” as Al Horford does here to block this shot from Bogdanovic:

3. It is likely that Marcus Morris will come off the bench as the backup four. That should give him lots of opportunity to match up with T.J. Leaf. Morris can’t settle when he draws Leaf. He needs to be aggressive at attacking Leaf off the bounce, like he is here:

Game 2 Takeaways

1. Jayson Tatum is going to have to be aggressive throughout the playoffs and he can’t hesitate. Tatum went through a pretty extensive mid-season slump, but has bounced back as of late. Boston needs him to make plays like this, where he goes right away against Domantas Sabonis before Sabonis can set his feet:

2. Smart was going to be the primary defender against Bogdanovic, but Boston can cover that. Where they could struggle is when they switch against the Indiana bigs. As we all know, posting Smart is never the mismatch it seems. Thaddeus Young learns that lesson here. Brown, Gordon Hayward and others aren’t nearly the post defenders Smart is. Plays like this probably aren’t being made by one of the other Celtics wings against a big on a switch:

3. This play also features Smart, but this is something Boston should use extensively in this series with other players. The Pacers are a good defense, but they can get caught ball-watching. The Celtics should use Horford as a playmaker, both inside and outside. If he’s guarded by Myles Turner, let Horford pull him away from the rim. But if he’s got Young, or any other Pacers big, let Horford go to work in the post. It’s likely to result in Horford scoring himself, or finding a teammate like he does here:

Game 3 Takeaways

1. Cross-matches will be huge in this series. Boston is likely to put Aron Baynes on Young and Horford on Turner. Although Turner is nominally the five, he tends to hang around the perimeter, while Young does most of his work around the paint. The Pacers are likely to flip-flop that matchup, as they like to keep Turner around the basket versus dealing with Horford outside.

On the wing, things get even more crossed up. Boston had been guarding Bogdanovic with Smart, but that probably goes to Brown now. Kyrie Irving will guard Darren Collison. That puts Jayson Tatum on Wesley Matthews. The Pacers will flip-flop the Brown/Tatum matchups.

Where this comes into play in a big way for the Celtics is by attacking in transition before the Pacers can get set off the cross-matches. On this play, Irving gets it to Smart right away, Smart attacks the rim before the Indiana defense is set and gets Horford a dunk. The Pacers defense is good when set, so Boston needs to attack like this and speed up the game:

2. Hayward has looked as good as he has all season over recent weeks. Part of it is his aggressiveness in attacking the paint. If Hayward draws mismatches, like he does here against Doug McDermott, he has to take advantage. This area is a major plus for Boston, and part of why Indiana may not be able to score enough to keep up with the Celtics.

3. The Celtics defense is really good no matter what any one individual does or doesn’t do. But Boston’s defense is great when Kyrie Irving locks in and plays with a championship level of effort. This is a late-game play against Darren Collison. Irving works his butt off to get through two different screens and then contest Collison’s jumper. This is the kind of effort that the Celtics will need from Irving to make a deep playoff run:

Game 4 Takeaways

1. Throughout the four game regular season series, the Pacers averaged 11 offensive rebounds per game. This is nearly two offensive boards above their season average. In the playoffs, where the game slows down and each possession means more, you can’t gift the other team extra chances. Horford, Hayward and Tatum are all position to get this rebound, or to get a body on someone. None of the three do either one and Turner grabs the board and gets an easy bucket. Boston has to do better than plays like this:

2. Earlier, we talked about Tatum being aggressive and how key that can be for the Celtics. The key is for him to be to be aggressive, but patiently so. On this play you can see Tatum take his time in pick and roll. Last year, Tatum would come off the screen and immediately pick up the ball to pass or shoot. Here, Tatum keeps his dribble alive to create space for the jumper. This is the type of shot he should get with regularity against Indiana in the playoffs:

3. As much as Tatum and Brown will have a huge impact, for the Celtics to win they need the stars to step up. Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward have to be great. Not all three need to be great every game, but at least two of the three need to be great each time out. Here, Horford rebounds, outlets to Irving and Irving finds the streaking Hayward for the layup. Plays like this are what Boston envisioned when they put this team together. And they’ll go a long way towards playoff success.

As you can see, Boston had a lot of success against Indiana in the regular season. They’ve got a lot of different ways to attack the Pacers defense. Without Victor Oladipo, Indiana doesn’t have a lot they can do to stress the Celtics defense, minus hitting a bunch of three-pointers and crashing the glass. As long as Boston is focused on defense and their stars step up on offense, the Celtics should be able to repeat their regular season success.