After losing four of their last five games, the Boston Celtics will be entering Wednesday’s contest against the Indiana Pacers looking to get back on track. Luckily, the Pacers are going through their own struggles and have lost five of their last seven games.
Still, each NBA game has to be taken on its own merit, as things can quickly take a turn for the better, or for the worse, in a matter of minutes. As such, let’s take a look at a few ways the Celtics could look to get themselves back on track with a victory over a rebuilding Pacers team.
Go back to what works on offense
Over the last two weeks, the Celtics are ranked 29th in the league for offensive rating, per Cleaning The Glass. A significant part of Boston’s struggles has been their inability to manipulate defenses so that the ball flows freely from side to side in search of an open shot from a high-level shooter.
Sure, the Celtics are still getting ‘open’ looks, but defenders are close enough to impact the shooter's release when closing out, and more importantly, it doesn’t feel like Boston is playing with any rhythm. Hopefully, we can see the Celtics return to a free-flowing game where actions are being executed on both sides of the floor simultaneously to create decoy scorers and confuse the defense.
A two-week slide in production is concerning, but there’s no reason to believe that what we had seen over the first quarter of the season was the exception and not the rule, so let's hope the Celtics get back to their offensive best on Wednesday night.
Engage the low man
When it comes to protecting the rim, the Pacers are the best team in the NBA at present, holding opponents to a 62.1% success rate. However, part of what made the Celtics so dangerous to begin the season was their ability to engage the low man (usually a dropping big) and draw them away from the rim before hitting a dump-off pass or finding a cutter from the wing.
If Boston can probe the defense and find ways to pull the defending big out of the paint, they will be a tough team to stop. After all, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both elite finishers, while Robert Williams’ presence will always ensure a lob threat on hand if the defender allows some space behind them.
I would expect Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White to take on this task, as, over the early part of the season, both have been exceptional at playing, and winning, that cat-and-mouse game with opposing big men.
Control the pace
The Celtics are at their best when they’re controlling the pace of play throughout a game - shocker, right? Marcus Smart has become a reliable metronome for the Celtics to play off of, especially when their offense is hitting the right tune. So, you would hope that Smart can return to his usual high level of play on both ends of the floor because he will need to limit Tyrese Haliburton’s ability to control the tempo if he wants to assert his own will onto the game.
Throughout their last five games, the Celtics have let their pace of play slip a little, which has led to an over-reliance on fast-break opportunities rather than looking to consistently push the rock and get into early offense sets while opposing defenses are still scrambling back.
Hopefully, with close to a full-strength team, Boston leans into its youthfulness and looks to exploit their immense open-court talent to their advantage.
Wednesday’s game against the Pacers couldn’t have come at a better time. The Celtics are in need of a win, and Indiana is experiencing their own slump, so if Boston plays their game and executes at the level we saw from them leading up to their blow-out victory over the Phoenix Suns, they should have no problem getting things back on track.
Slumps are difficult to predict, though — they don’t operate on anyone’s timeline or care where a game is being held. Eventually, though, the ball will start falling again, and when it does, some poor team is going to take a whooping; all we can do is hope that the whooping happens against Indiana, so we can get back to focusing on some elite-level offense.