The Celtics return home from an 0-3 road trip to host the Indiana Pacers for their 3rd meeting this season. They split the first two games in the series in back to back games in Indiana earlier this season. The Pacers beat the Celtics 108-107 on 12/27 and then 2 days later on 12/29, the Celtics avenged that loss with a 116-111 win.
The Celtics have dropped to 9th in the East, 6 games behind first place Philadelphia. There is a crowd of teams in the middle of the standing with 7 teams between 5 and 6 games back of first. The Celtics are 8-5 at home and got the news that they will have fans back in the Garden at the end of March. They are 3-7 in their last 10 games and have dropped their last 3 games.
The Pacers are 4th, just one game ahead of the Celtics, and 5 games behind the first place 76ers. They are 8-5 on the road, which is the best road win percentage in the East. They are just 7-10 at home, however. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games and lost their last game but have won 3 of their last 5 games.
Indiana has changed since the last time these two teams played. Victor Oladipo scored 24 points and had 6 rebounds and 6 assists in December but has since been traded to the Rockets. Caris LeVert was supposed to be the star to take his place, however, in his physical for the trade it was discovered that he had a mass on his kidney. He has had surgery and is close to returning to non contact basketball activities.
Also out for the Pacers is TJ Warren, who was averaging 15.5 points for them. He had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot and has just been cleared to begin rehab. JaKarr Sampson is questionable due to covid. For the Celtics, Marcus Smart (calf) and Romeo Langford (wrist) remain out. Both are expected back after the All Star break.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Daniel Theis
C: Tristan Thompson
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Marcus Smart (calf) out
Probable Pacers Starters
PG: Malcolm Brogdon
SG: Justin Holiday
SF: Doug McDermott
PF: Domantas Sabonis
C: Myle Turner
Brian Bowen II
JaKarr Sampson (covid) questionable
Caris LeVert (abdomen) out
TJ Warren (foot) out
Kemba Walker vs Malcolm Brogdon
Brogdon is averaging 21.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists. He is shooting 44% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc. He averaged 22 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists in the two games in Indiana. Kemba was rested on Wednesday and should be fresh for this game. Hopefully he gets back to playing like good Kemba again in this one.
Daniel Theis vs Domantas Sabonis
If Brad goes with the double big starting lineup once again, Daniel Theis will be matched up with Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis is averaging 21.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists. He averaged 16.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists in the first two games against the Celtics. He is shooting 53% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc and is very dangerous if not defended well.
Tristan Thompson vs Myles Turner
Turner is averaging 13.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game this season. He is shooting 49% from the floor and 32% from beyond the arc. He is always a threat to block shots and so the Celtics have to keep him out of the paint if possible.
Keys to the Game
Defense - If the Celtics are to get back on track and start winning, they must work harder on defense. Defense is the key to winning games and championships. The Celtics have slipped to 16th with a defensive rating of 111.0. The Pacers are 11th with a defensive rating of 110.1. They need to especially defend the paint as the Pacers are 3rd with 53.7 points in the paint per game. Until the Celtics get back to playing tough team and individual defense, they are going to struggle to get wins.
Rebound - The Celtics are 17th in the league, pulling down 43.8 rebounds per game. It is important to rebound the ball to give themselves extra possessions and to prevent the opponent from getting extra possessions. Much of rebounding is desire and effort and the Celtics have got to put out more effort on the boards if they want to get back in the win column.
Play As a Team - The Celtics play very well for periods in a game when they run and move the ball and play unselfishly, finding the open man and the best shot. Then, they for some reason go away from that and play hero ball, dribbling out the clock and taking contested, last second shots. When the Celtics get over 20 assists per game they give themselves a good chance to win. When they get fewer than 20 assists, they usually struggle. They have to play team ball for the entire game and not lapse into hero ball.
Be Aggressive and Play with Energy - The Celtics have been playing like their feet are stuck in mud. They have allowed bad teams to be more aggressive and play harder than them and that has resulted in losses that should have been wins. The Celtics need to be more aggressive in going after loose balls and rebounds and in driving to the basket and playing defense. They have to play harder than the Pacers if they want to get a win.
Effort and Focus - So far, the Celtics haven’t shown the kind of effort and focus that they need to win consistently, especially on the defensive end of the court. Will they find that extra gear once again? They should be plenty motivated after dropping out of the playoff race and so hopefully we will see the effort and focus needed to win.
Officiating - Officiating can always be an x-factor. Every officiating crew calls the game differently. Will the refs call it tight? Will they let them play? Will the Celtics spend more time complaining about fouls than actually shooting the ball? Once again, the Celtics must adjust to the way the crew is calling the game.