The Celtics host the Indiana Pacers for the 3rd game of their 7 game home stand. The Celtics are coming off 2 straight losses to the Orlando Magic in their first two games of the home stand. They will host the Timberwolves, Bucks, Rockets and Clippers in the final 4 games of the home stand. This is the first of a 3 game Eastern road trip for the Pacers.
The Celtics have dropped to 2nd in the East, half a game behind the first place Milwaukee Bucks. This sets up a huge game between the top 2 teams in the East on Christmas Day. The Celtics are 11-4 at home and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 14-7 against Eastern Conference teams. They have lost their last 2 games and are just one of 3 teams that have yet to lose 3 in a row.
The Pacers are in 9th place in the East. They are 2.5 games out of 6th place and 7.5 games out of last place. They are 6-9 on the road and 3-7 in their last 10 games. They have lost their last 2 games and they have lost 4 of their last 5 games. They are 10-8 against other Eastern Conference teams.
This is the first of 3 games between these two teams. They will meet a second time in Indiana on February 23. Their final meeting will be in Boston on March 24. The Celtics won the series 3-1 last season with their lone loss in Indiana. The Celtics are 104-82 overall all time against the Pacers and 59-26 in games played in Boston.
The Celtics are finally very close to full health. Robert Williams returned to action for the first Magic game after the road trip. Jayson Tatum missed the Celtics game on Sunday for personal reasons but returned to practice on Tuesday and is expected to play. However, Grant Williams is probable and Marcus Smart is questionable due to a non-covid illness. Danilo Gallinari is out as he rehabs his torn ACL. For the Pacers only Daniel Theis (knee) is out.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Head Coach (Interim)
Probable Pacers Starters
2 Way Players
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Marcus Smart vs Tyrese Haliburton
Haliburton is averaging 19.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 10.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He is shooting 41.8% from the field and 38.6% from beyond the arc. Haliburton has given the Celtics problems in the past and he is playing very well this season. The Celtics need to stay with him on defense to try to slow him down in this game.
Jaylen Brown vs Buddy Hield
Hield is averaging 17.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. He is shooting 44.2% from the field and 39.0% from beyond the arc. Hield is a good shooter and can score in bunches if left open. The Celtics need to stick with him on defense to try to limit his scoring in this one.
Al Horford vs Miles Turner
In spite of being in trade rumors every off season and trade deadline, Turner is still with the Pacers and is playing very well. He his averaging 17.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.2 blocks per game. He is shooting 55.5% from the field and 43.0% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to stay with him both on the perimeter and in the paint as he can score from both. He is also a rim protector and so the Celtics should try to draw him away from the basket.
Keys to the Game
Defense - If the Celtics want to get back on track and get back to winning, they must make defense a priority. Defense is always the key to winning games.. The Celtics are 8th in the league with a defensive rating of 110.6, but they haven’t played defense consistently. The Pacers are 21st with a defensive rating of 113.1. The Celtics need to defend the perimeter as the Pacers are 4th in the league, taking 40 three pointers per game. (The Celtics are 2nd taking 41.9 per game). The Celtics allowed the Magic to shoot 41.4% on 3’s and they have to defend the perimeter better than that against the Pacers.
Rebound - The Celtics are 19th in the league, pulling down 43.0 rebounds per game. It is important to rebound the ball to give themselves extra possessions and to prevent the opponent from getting the same along with 2nd chance points. The pacers get 14.7 second chance points per 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.
Stay Focused - A lack of focus can explain a lot of the Celtics problems when they struggle. They lose focus and turn the ball over time after time during stretches in the game. They had 16 turnovers against the Magic on Sunday. They also lose focus and struggle to hit shots that they would usually make. After having the top offense in the league in November, they have one of the worst offenses in December. At times they also lose focus on defense and miss assignments and allow opponents open shots on the perimeter and easy shots inside. The Celtics must stay focused and take care of the ball, focus on taking and making good shots, and focus on playing tough team defense.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to come out and be aggressive right from the opening tip. They have to be aggressive on defense, driving to the basket, especially if the 3’s aren’t falling once again, rebounding, diving for loose balls and just playing harder in general. They need to get off to a strong start and play hard right up until the final buzzer. They can’t let the Pacers outwork them for any period of time as they allowed the Magic to out work them.
Home Game - The Celtics are home for the third straight game. They have the home crowd behind them to give them extra motivation. The Pacers are on the road, where they haven’t played all that well this season, going just 6-9 away from home, and where they are faced with the distractions of travel, hotel stays and a hostile crowd. The Celtics need to take advantage of playing at home and defend their home court.
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 Jaylen Brown get more traveling calls? 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. Most of all, they can’t let the officiating make them lose their composure.