The Celtics will face the Indiana Pacers for the second time in 3 days as they complete the home and home set with a visit to the Gainbridge Fieldhouse. This is the second of 4 games between these two teams this season. They will meet again on February 27 in Indiana and on April 1 in Boston. The Celtics won the first meeting 101-98 in an ugly overtime game on Monday.
The Celtics are 10th in the East and have won their last 2 games. They are 7-13 on the road and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 14-11 against Eastern Conference teams. A win here would bring the Celtics back to .500 once again. The Pacers are 13th in the East. They had lost 6 in a row and then beat the Jazz at home, then they lost to the Celtics in their last game. They are 12-10 at home and 2-8 in their last 10 games. They are 8-21 against Eastern Conference teams.
The Celtics are just starting the second half of the season and there is plenty of time for them to move up in the standings. They are just 2 games away from 7th in the East, 3 games back of 6th place and 4 games out of 5th place. A little bit of luck and health and the Celtics could go on a run and move up in the playoff standings. The Celtics are 45-44 all time against the Pacers and 18-27 when playing in Indiana.
The Celtics are still close to being back to full health but can’t quite get there. Payton Pritchard, who has been out in the health and safety protocols, was originally questionable for this game but he has been upgraded to available. Marcus Smart left Monday’s game with a bruised thigh. At first he was expected to return but soon after was counted out for the rest of the game. He is out this game. I would expect Dennis Schroder to get the start but Ime may go with Pritchard here.
The Pacers have 2 players out and 4 players questionable and whose status is a game time decision. TJ McConnell is out with a wrist injury. TJ Warren is out with a foot injury. Goga Bitadze and Caris LeVert are both questionable due to conditioning after returning from health and safety protocols. Chris Duarte is questionable as he is awaiting the birth of his first child. Malcolm Brogdon is questionable due to a sore Achilles that has kept him out of the past 9 games. If he can play, I would expect him to return to the starting point guard position.
Probable Celtics Starters
Marcus Smart (thigh) out
Payton Pritchard (covid) available
Probable Pacers Starters
TJ McConnell (wrist) out
TJ Warren (foot) out
Goga Bitadze (conditioning) questionable
Malcolm Brogdon (Achilles) questionable
Chris Duarte (personal) questionable
Caris LeVert (conditioning) questionable
Duane Washington, Jr
Al Horford vs Domantas Sabonis
Sabonis is averaging 19.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.0 steals per game. He is shooting 58.6% from the field and 32.3% from beyond the arc. He is coming off a 42 point game against the Jazz where he shot 18-22. He also had a triple double in the game before that, a loss to the Nets as well as an 11 point, 23 rebound and 10 assist triple double against the Celtics on Monday. The Celtics will need to particularly slow Sabonis down as well as try to keep him off the boards.
Robert Williams III vs Myles Turner
Turner is averaging 12.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 2.9 blocks per game. He is shooting 51.8% from the field and 35.3% from beyond the arc. The Celtics will need to guard him both in the paint and on the perimeter as he attempts more than 4 three pointers per game. With Robert Williams blocking 2.1 shots per game and Turner blocking 2.9 shots per game, this could be quite the block party once again. Timelord had 15 points, 12 rebounds 4 steals and 3 blocks in Monday’s game and hopefully he will play well for the Celtics again in this game.
Josh Richardson vs Lance Stephenson
Stephenson was signed to a second 10 day hardship contract on Tuesday and according to Rick Carlisle, he has given the Pacers a spark and has energized the team. Over the two games before Monday’s loss to the Celtics, he had 30 points and 5 assists in a loss to the Nets and 16 points and 14 assists in a win over the Jazz. He is averaging 14.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5 assists per game while shooting 51.8% from the field and 36.4% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics on Monday, he had 14 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist while shooting 50% from beyond the arc. He has played much better at home than on the road and so the Celtics need to be ready for “The Lance Effect” in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the key to winning every single game. The Celtics are 5th with a defensive rating of 106.8. The Pacers are 21st with a defensive rating of 109.8. The Celtics held the Knicks to 75 points and then held the Pacers to 98 on Monday and they will need another solid defensive outing in this game if they hope to get a win on the road. The Celtics need to especially defend the paint as the Pacers are 9th with 47.9 points in the paint per game.
Rebound - The Celtics are 7th in the league, pulling down 45.9 rebounds per game. The Pacers are 18th with 44.6 rebounds per game. It is important to rebound the ball to give themselves extra possessions and to prevent the Pacers from getting the same along with 2nd chance points. The Ppacers get 13.9 second chance points per game. The Celtics out-rebounded the Pacers 53-47 on Monday and they need to work even harder on the boards in this game. 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 a win in this game.
Focus and Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics need to stay focused and take good shots and not rush the offense or play too much iso ball. They need to stay focused on playing the right way and on taking care of the ball. The Celtics had 20 turnovers on Monday and that is way too many. Jayson Tatum had 8 of those turnovers and that shows a lack of focus on his part. They have to stay focused and they have to play as a team and play the right way.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team and they have to work harder and play harder than the Pacers. If Marcus Smart is out, they are going to miss his toughness and his aggressiveness but every player on the court has to step up and bring that hustle and heart to make up for his presence. They have to be more aggressive on defense, on the boards, in going after loose balls and in 50-50 balls. They have to be the team that wants it more and play like it.
On the Road - The Pacers have played much better at home than they have on the road. They are 12-10 at home and are coming off a big win over the Jazz there. The Celtics have struggled on the road at times and have a 7-13 record away from the TD Garden. Add to that the fact that Lance Stephenson has been on another level when playing at home and the fact that the Celtics just handed them a tough loss on Monday, and it will take extra effort and focus on the part of the Celtics to get a win here.
Coaching - The Celtics have a first year head coach who is just working his way through the intricacies of coaching and getting to know his team. The Pacers have a very experienced head coach who has been a head coach since 2001 but is in his first season with this Pacers team. In a home and home series where you play the same team twice in a row, coaching often comes into play as each coach makes adjustments and tries to win the chess match between them.
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? Will they favor the home team or call it fairly? Once again, the Celtics must adjust to the way the crew is calling the game and not allow it to become a distraction for them.