The Celtics finally return home from their West coast trip to host the Indiana Pacers. This is the third and final game between these two teams this season. The Pacers won the first game 117-112 in Boston on 12/21. The Celtics won the second game 142-138 in overtime in Indiana on 2/23. The Celtics won the series 3-1 last season with their loss coming on the road.
The Celtics are 105-83 overall all time against the Pacers. They are 59-27 all time in Boston. Indiana is playing in the 3rd game of a 4 game road trip. They are 1-1 so far on the trip, winning in Toronto and losing in Charlotte. The Celtics are playing in the first game at home after a 4-2 Western road trip. They will play the Spurs at home on Sunday before 2 more on the road, including a big game in Milwaukee.
The Celtics are back in 2nd place in the East, after a brief time at 3rd. They are 2.5 games behind first place Milwaukee. They are half a game ahead of 3rd place Philadelphia and 4.5 games ahead of 4th place Cleveland. They are 26-9 at home and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 29-16 against other Eastern Conference teams. They won their last game.
The Pacers are in 11th place in the East. They are 1.5 games behind 10th place Chicago for the final play-in spot. They are 6.5 games behind 6th place Brooklyn for the final guaranteed playoff spot. They are 1 game ahead of !2th place Washington. They are 14-23 on the road but have won 6 of their last 9 road games. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games and are 23-22 against other Eastern Conference teams. They won their last game.
The Celtics finally got Robert Williams III back for the last game of their road trip after he had been out with a hamstring injury. He came off the bench in that game and I’m guessing that he may come off the bench once again in this game since the team played very well in that game. Although, Timelord would match up with Turner better, so he may return to the starting lineup. Payton Pritchard (heel) is doubtful and Danilo Gallinari (ACL) is out. For the Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton (knee) and Chris Duarte (ankle) are both questionable and will be a game time decision.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Payton Pritchard (heel) doubtful
Probable Pacers Starters
2 Way Players
Chris Duarte (ankle) questionable
Tyrese Haliburton (knee) questionable
Derrick White vs Buddy Hield
Hield is averaging 17.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. He is shooting 45.9% from the field and 43.4% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season he averaged 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1 steal per game. He shot 47.6% from the field and 46.2 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 Myles 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 17.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 2.3 blocks per game. He is shooting 54.6% from the field and 37.6% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season he averaged 25 points, 8 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He shot 73.9% from the field and 75% 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.
Jaylen Brown vs Benedict Mathurin
Mathurin is averaging 16.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game. He is shooting 43.2% from the field and 32.5% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season he averaged 13 points, .5. rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He shot 43.5% from the field and 37.5% from beyond the arc.
[If Haliburton can play, the point guard matchup will be key with Haliburton averaging 20.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists and 1.6 steals. He shoots 48.8% from the field and 40.3% from beyond the arc. ]
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is the key to winning every single game and if they hope to get to the Finals again, it will be with tough defense. The Celtics are 4th in the league with a defensive rating of 111.3. The Pacers are 25th with a defensive rating of 116.2. The Celtics defense looked good against the Kings on Tuesday and they need to continue to make defense their identity and their priority. The Celtics need to especially defend the paint as the Pacers average 49.4 points in the paint per game. The Pacers are also 1st in the league with 18.6 fast break points per game. The Celtics have to play tough defense to prevent them from getting out on the break and getting open shots.
Rebound - The Celtics are 7th in the league, pulling down 45.1 rebounds per game. The Pacers are 23rd 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 13.6 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.
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 also lose focus and struggle to hit shots that they would usually make. 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 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.
Value Every Game - The Celtics are in the final stretch of games and every game is important because home court is important in the playoffs and the Celtics can’t afford to lose games in this stretch, especially against lottery or play-in teams. They have to play hard and stay focused and play their hardest on every possession. They can’t take any games off.
Home Game - The Celtics are home for the first time since March 8th when they left for their 6 game road trip. 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 14-23 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? 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.