1. In many ways, this was a schedule loss for the Boston Celtics. It was a weird 12:00 PM tip in Detroit, followed by a 5:00 PM tip in Indianapolis on a back-to-back. That’s not the kind of rhythm NBA players are used to at all.
Yes, a loss is a loss. And it’s a loss to a bad team. But in the end, the Pacers made a ton of tough shots, especially in the second half, and won. And this isn’t the banged up, pre-trade deadline Indiana team. This group is playing fast, with a ton of energy and figuring themselves out.
Overall, it’s a game Boston should have won, but it’s a little hard to get too upset that they didn’t win.
2. The Pacers shot 17-of-33 from behind the arc. That included an absurd 13-of-25 on above-the-break three-pointers. Look at this shot chart:
The worrisome thing for the Celtics was that the Pacers shot 10-of-14 on wide-open three-pointers. Most of those came in the first half, but once Indiana was feeling good, even the well-contested shots were falling.
More simply put: The early part of the game didn’t feature the Boston defense we’ve become accustomed to over the last two months.
3. This play is a good example of how disconnected the Celtics defense was. In Boston’s switch-everything scheme, they don’t get caught up on screens, because they hand the offensive player off to the next defender. On this play, Jayson Tatum hands off Tyrese Haliburton to Robert Williams and he picks up Jalen Smith. As Isaiah Jackson comes up to screen for Haliburton, Robert Williams should be handing off Haliburton to Grant Williams, Instead, both Rob and Grant jump Haliburton as Jackson slips the screen for the easy dunk:
Plays like the above were all too commonplace throughout this game. Switching everything requires all five defenders to be on the same page, as well as holding their own in any matchup. The second part wasn’t a problem. However, the first part was an issue, as communication breakdowns ruled the day.
4. On the heels of the above takeaway, it’s important to note that Al Horford got a rest day on Sunday. After playing 37 minutes on Saturday afternoon, Horford didn’t play against the Pacers. Ime Udoka said that’s something that will happen more often down the stretch of the season.
Ultimately, keeping Horford fresh is important. But he’s such a key to the Celtics defense that it will have an impact on that end of the floor. Ideally, those rest days will line up with the less-challenging opponents, but that may not always be the case.
5. Derrick White had his worst game since coming to Boston on Saturday. It was good to see him more or less bounce back on Sunday. In short order, it’s become clear White is at his best when he can get into the paint. That allows him to use his size to make shots like this:
6. Despite a somewhat poor shooting performance, the Celtics ball movement remained good. Boston had 25 assists on 39 baskets.
On this play, the ball hit the paint twice before Jaylen Brown found Derrick White for an open three:
A couple of plays later, Rob Williams found Brown cutting backdoor for a layup:
It took the Celtics a little bit to figure out the Pacers shifting zone (Indiana played a combination of 1-2-2, 3-2 and 2-3 zones), but getting a man at the nail always seems to work. This is a nice combination of passes to get Brown an open triple:
And, even despite the shooting struggles, it’s good to see guys make the extra pass. This was a really nice initial pass by Jayson Tatum to the opposite corner. Then, Payton Pritchard makes the extra pass to Brown:
7. Speaking of Payton Pritchard, he put together another strong game. He scored 14 points and grabbed a surprising six rebounds. If defenders back off Pritchard even a half-step too far, he’s pulling up for the jumper:
Pritchard’s ability to make shots off the dribble has really improved a lot too. This is a nice combination move to free himself up for the three-pointer:
8. Jayson Tatum had an off game with his jumper. He was just 2-of-12 from behind the arc. The good news was that Tatum didn’t force many. And he did a good job getting downhill, as he got the line for eight free throws. That’s a sign Tatum recognized the outside shot wasn’t falling, so he took to working inside more.
9. Grant Williams got the start, but he was sort of invisible. Just four points and only a handful of impact plays. He also passed up a couple of good looks from his money spot in the corner. That’s something that can’t become a thing from Boston’s most consistent shooter.
Williams hasn’t been as productive as a defender as a starter. That makes sense, as he’s going against better players for more of his minutes. On the flip side, he’s knocked down more of his shots when he opens games. That’s probably a result of playing more with guys who attract lots of attention. Like the team as a whole, we’ll write this one off as simply a tough night for Williams.
10. The Celtics have a big week coming up. It’s a three-game homestand featuring visits from the Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies and Brooklyn Nets. Boston has struggled with Atlanta some this season, so that should be an interesting test. The Grizzlies have been one of the NBA’s better teams this season, led by Ja Morant. And the Nets will have Kyrie Irving (road game) and may have Kevin Durant back too.
The good news is that after three games in four days to open the post-break schedule, the Celtics only have three games over their next seven days. That should get some legs back under the guys, while also allowing for some rare practice time.
Related to the above: Boston has matched the LA Clippers for the most games played this season. Given that the Celtics have a fairly challenging closing schedule, the extra handful of days off should be a boon down the stretch.