The Celtics begin the final stretch run of the season on the road to take on the Indiana Pacers. This is the 2nd of 3 games between these two teams this season. The Pacers won their first meeting 117-112 in Boston on December 22. They will meet for a third and final time in Boston on March 24. The Celtics won the series 3-1 last season with their lone loss coming in Indiana. A win in this game would give the Pacers their first series win over the Celtics since the 2015-16 season.
This is the first game for both teams after the All Star break. After this home game for the Pacers, they will begin a 4 game road trip on Saturday. After this game for the Celtics, they will play on the road for 2 more straight games. They will play the 76ers in Philadelphia on Saturday and then they will play the Knicks in New York before heading home to play a 3 game home stand.
The Celtics remain 1st in the East although their lead over 2nd place Milwaukee has shrunk to just half a game. The Bucks have won 12 straight games, including one over a very shorthanded Celtics. The Celtics lead the 3rd place 76ers by 3 games and the 4th place Cavaliers by 5. They are 18-10 on the road and 7-3 in their last 10 games. The Celtics are 25-12 against Eastern Conference opponents. They are looking for their 2nd straight win.
The Pacers are 12th in the East. They are 2.5 games behind 10th place Toronto and the final spot in the play-in tournament. They are 7 games behind 6th place New York and the final play off spot before the play-in. They are 11 ahead of Detroit and the last place in the East. The Pacers are 18-14 at home and 2-8 in their last 10 games. They are 18-17 against Eastern Conference opponents and are looking for their second straight win.
This will be the first game back in Indiana for Malcolm Brogdon since he was traded to the Celtics in the off season. They should have a tribute video for him and he should get a warm welcome from the fans but you never know, they may boo him instead. Aaron Nesmith will be playing against his former team for the first time at home and will likely want to put on a good show. Brogdon is a Sixth Man candidate but so is Indiana rookie Benedict Matherin, who is averaging 17.3 points per game.
After the week long break, both teams appear to be mostly healthy. Most of the players had the week off other than Tyrese Haliburton, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum who played in the All Star Game and Buddy Hield who competed in the 3 point contest. Danilo Gallinari is the lone name on the Celtics injury list at this time barring any last minute additions on game day. I’m assuming that the Celtics will go back to the regular lineup with everyone healthy. The Pacers have only Kendall Brown, their two way player, on their injury list with a lower leg injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Probable Pacers Starters
2 Way Players
Marcus Smart vs Tyrese Haliburton
Haliburton is averaging 19.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 10.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He is shooting 48.0% from the field and 39.9% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season he finished with 33 points, 3 rebounds, 8 assists and 1 steal. He shot 50% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. Haliburton has given the Celtics problems in the past and the Celtics need to do a better job of slowing him down in this one.
Jayson Tatum vs Buddy Hield
Hield is averaging 17.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. He is shooting 45.3% from the field and 42.6% from beyond the arc. In the first game against the Celtics, he finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. The Celtics need Jayson Tatum to pick up where he left off in the All Star Game and play well on both ends of the court.
Robert Williams III vs Myles Turner
In spite of being in trade rumors every off season, Turner is still with the Pacers and is playing very well. He his averaging 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.3 blocks per game. He is shooting 53.5% from the field and 38.0% from beyond the arc. In the first game against the Celtics, he finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal. He shot 50% from the field and 50% from three. 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 - Defense is the key to winning every single game. The Celtics are 4th in the league with a defensive rating of 110.6. The Pacers are 23rd with a defensive rating of 115.2. The Celtics finally have their defense back in the top 5 and have been winning games with their defense. They need to continue to make defense their identity and their priority. The Celtics need to especially defend the paint as the Pacers average 48 points in the paint per game. The Pacers are also 1st in the league with 18.8 fast break points per game. The Celtics have to play tough defense to prevent them from getting out on the break.
Rebound - The Celtics are 6th in the league, pulling down 45.1 rebounds per game. The Pacers are 24th with 41.6 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 Pacers get 13.7 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 than the Pacers if they want to get a win in this game.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team and they have to work harder and play harder than the Pacers. They have to be more aggressive on defense, on the boards, in going after loose balls and on the 50-50 balls. They have to be the team that wants it more and play like it. The Celtics have to beat teams by playing with more effort every single game. They have to play hard for 48 minutes and not build a lead and then let up or start slow and then have to play catch up. They need to be more aggressive from start to finish.
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 can’t depend on iso ball and instead, they need to keep the ball moving and look for the best shots. They also need to focus on handling the ball and making crisp passes and not turning the ball over.
On The Road - The Celtics start out their post All Star break slate on the road. The Pacers are playing well at home with an 18-14 record. The Celtics can’t allow the distractions of travel and a hostile crowd to take away from their focus on the game. The Pacers beat the Celtics in Boston, it’s time for the Celtics to return the favor and get a win on the Pacers home court.
Coaching - First year head coach, Joe Mazzulla is coaching his first game as the head coach of the Celtics after having the interim tag removed. He is facing a long time coach and former Celtic Rick Carlisle. Carlisle was an assistant for 11 years and then head coach for 20 years. He has been a Coach of the Year and also won a championship as a head coach with the Mavs.
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 they favor the home team or call it fairly? 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 and not allow it to become a distraction for them.