The Celtics travel to Indiana to take on the Pacers in what might be the most important game this season. The Celtics and Pacers have identical records at 47-32. Currently, the Celtics hold the tie breaker as they lead the season series 2-1. A win for the Celtics will put them up 1 game on the Pacers for 4th place. A loss would drop them 1 game behind the Pacers into 5th place. Home court in the first round of the playoffs is on the line.
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. Then, just a week ago, the Celtics beat the Pacers 114-112 in Boston on a last second Kyrie Irving layup.
Boston’s win a week ago tied the two teams records and put the Celtics into 4th place by virtue of owning the tie breaker. Both teams lost their next game and then both teams won the next two games: the Celtics in a home and home vs Miami and the Pacers in a home and home vs the Pistons. So, they remain tied going into this game.
The Celtics are 19-20 on the road while the Pacers are a very good home team with a 29-10 record. The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games and the Pacers are 3-7 in their last 10 games. Both teams have two games remaining after this one with Boston playing Orlando at home and Washington on the road and Indiana playing Atlanta on the road and Brooklyn at home.
Darren Collison (groin) missed the last 2 games for the Pacers and is listed as doubtful for this game. If he can’t play, Cory Joseph will likely get the start once again. Wesley Matthews (hamstring) also missed the last two games and is also listed as a game time decision. He was able to go through practice on Thursday and will be a game time decision. Tyreke Evans will likely get the start if he can’t go. As important as this game is, I think they will play them if there is any way they can possibly play.
For the Celtics, Jaylen Brown has missed two games with back spasms and is out once again for this game. Marcus Morris missed the last game with a sore knee and is questionable for this game. Al Horford is once again listed as probable with a sore knee. I don’t see them resting anyone for this game since there is so much on the line.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Marcus Morris (knee) questionable
Jaylen Brown (back) out
Al Horford (knee) probable
Two Way Players
Probable Pacers Starters
Two Way Players
Victor Olidipo (knee) out
Darren Collison (groin) doubtful
Wesley Matthews (hamstring) game time decision
Jayson Tatum vs Bojan Bogdanovic
Bogdanovic is averaging 18.2points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists. He is shooting 50% from the field and 42.7% from beyond the arc and if not defended closely, he can put up big numbers. He put up 27 points against the Celtics in Friday’s game and seemed to get whatever he wanted. The Celtics need to try to limit his production in this one.
Al Horford vs Thaddeus Young
Young is averaging 12.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He is shooting 52.4% from the field and 35.4% from beyond the arc. In the Pacers last 2 games, Young has led the team in scoring with 19 and 21 points. Al needs to keep him from having a big game in this one.
Gordon Hayward 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 January game against the Celtics he had 20 points and 5 assists. He had 11 points on 50% shooting to go with 4 rebounds in last Friday’s game. He can have a big game if the Celtics don’t defend him well. On the other hand, the Celtics are 5-0 when Gordon Hayward scores 20+ points and 24-3 when he shoots 50% or greater from the field. The Celtics need aggressive Hayward for this one.
Keys to the Game
Play Defense - Defense wins games. The Pacers average 108 points per game while the Celtics average 112.3 points per game. The Pacers have a defensive rating of 105.5, good for 3rd in the league while the Celtics have a defensive rating of 107.0, 6th in the league. The Pacers held Detroit to 95.5 ppg over their home and home set and appear to be ready to clamp down on the Celtics in this game. The Celtics must play tough defense as well if they want to get the win. Defense is the biggest key to winning this 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. 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. The Pacers score 13.3 seconds chance points and so the Celtics need to go strong to the boards to limit those second chance points.
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 19.1 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. But they have to keep the ball moving so that their offense doesn’t get stagnant.
Play 48 Minutes - We have seen it over and over again this season, 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 are very good and score a lot off the bench. The Pacers are 14-2 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. The Celtics will be down at least one bench player and possibly two. The Pacers have two starters who may or may not be out and so they may be down two bench players as well. The play of the reserves will be very important for both teams.
On the Road - The Celtics are back on the road and are once again playing in a hostile environment. There should be a playoff atmosphere with the fans knowing how important the game is. The players have to focus on the game and block out all the distractions that come with playing on the road with a loud and hostile crowd. The Pacers are very good at home and so it will take extra effort and teamwork for the Celtics to win this one.
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.