The Celtics play their first road game of the season against the Pacers in Indiana. They will face these same Pacers once again in Indiana on Tuesday. They also will meet again on February 26 in Boston. They split the series 1-1 last season with both games taking place in Indiana. They last played each other on March 10, 2020.
Both teams are playing in their 3rd game. The Pacers beat the Knicks 121-107 on Wednesday 12/23. They are playing in back to back game after beating the Bulls 116-103 in Chicago on Saturday night and had to travel after the game to get back to Indiana. The Celtics won their home opener over the Bucks, but lost to the Nets on Christmas Day. They had Saturday off.
These two teams were involved in extended trade rumors in the off season. There were strong rumors that Gordon Hayward wanted to go home to Indiana and that the Celtics would trade Hayward for Miles Turner. But those rumors were put to rest when Hayward signed with Charlotte. I’m sure that Turner will be motivated to let the Celtics know what they missed out on.
First time coach Nate Bjorkgren has instituted a new run and gun system for the Pacers. They shot 34 three pointers in their first game against the Knicks and then shot 26 against the Bulls, with Victor Oladipo going 5-5 from beyond the arc. The Pacers are currently 6th in pace (106.75) while the Celtics are 27th (99.25). They won their first 2 games vs the Knicks and Bulls, but the Celtics should pose a whole different level of competition for them.
The Celtics started the same lineup in their first two games with both Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis starting. Whether Brad Stevens goes with the same starters in this one or not is anyone’s guess. The Pacers started the same five in both of their games so far and will likely keep the same starters for this game.
Robert Williams missed Friday’s game with an illness but is reportedly good to go for this one. Kemba Walker (knee) and Romeo Langford (wrist) are both out for this game. Tacko Fall (eye) is a game time decision. For the Pacers, Jeremy Lamb (knee), Goga Bitadze (ankle) and Brian Bowen (groin) are all out. Edmond Sumner (illness) is a game time decision.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Kemba Walker (knee) out
Tacko Fall (eye) out
Probable Pacers Starters
Edmond Sumner (illness) game time decision
Jeremy Lamb (knee) out
Goga Bitadze (ankle) out
Brian Bowen (groin) out
Tristan Thompson vs Domantas Sabonis
If Brad goes with the double big starting lineup once again, Tristan Thompson will be matched up with Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis has played very well so far, putting up 32 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists in his first game and followed that with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists before fouling out in his second game. It will be important for the Celtics to limit his scoring and his rebounding.
Jaylen Brown vs Victor Oladipo
Oladipo has started the season strong also. He had 22 points, 4 rebounds 2 assists and 1 steal in his first game and 22 points, 7 rebounds 1 assist and 2 steals in his second game. He is capable of putting up points in a hurry if the defense doesn’t cover him tightly.
Marcus Smart vs Malcolm Brogdon
Brogdon came over to Indiana from the Bucks and so far is fitting in with the Pacers quite well. He started the season with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals. He had 18 points, 2 rebounds and 6 assists in his second game. He is another player who is capable of putting up points in a hurry.
Keys to the Game
Defense - As I say every game, defense is the key to winning, whether in the regular season or in the playoffs. The Celtics must key in on their defense if they want to be contenders this season. They allowed 121 points in their first 2 games and allowed 51% shooting from the field and 40% from the 3 point line. If the Celtics hope to win this game (or any other game) they need to work harder on defense both individually and as a team. They will especially need to defend the perimeter against the Pacers as their new coach is stressing outside shooting in his offense.
Rebound - The Celtics are 25th in the league, averaging 37 rebounds after their first 2 games. Their opponents averaged 52 rebounds over those 2 games. Rebounding takes effort and the Celtics must put out more effort on the boards if they want to win. They can’t win if they give the other team 15 extra possessions a game off of rebounds.
Play Team Ball - The Celtics are tough to beat when they move the ball and find the open man. However, it seems that they go away from that in the second half of games and opt for more hero ball and fewer passes. They need to play as a team and work harder on ball movement and finding better shots for the full 48 minutes and not go away from that.
Go to the Hoop - The Celtics have to work harder on getting into the paint. When they do, they either get a basket or draw a foul. The Celtics are 25th in the league, taking just 15 free throws per game. Jayson Tatum did not attempt a free throw against the Nets. The Celtics need to get to the basket more and draw more fouls.
Road Game and Back to Back- The Pacers are playing on the second night of back to back games. The Celtics have had a day off since their Christmas Day game. The Pacers are at home and that should give them an advantage, but if the Celtics run and set the pace, the Pacers could tire by the end of the game and allow the Celtics to pull out a win.
Officiating - The officiating is always an X-Factor. They seem to be calling fouls this year on seal screens that were a big part of the Celtics’ offense last season. Along with this, some crews call it tight and some allow them to play physical ball. The Celtics have to adjust to how the game is being called.