The Boston Celtics (14-17) are in the midst of a funk where they have lost four straight games and eight of their last ten. During their four game losing streak, the Celtics have lost by an average of 19.8 points a game and their once vaunted defense has been anything but these days.
The Indiana Pacers (19-13) on the other hand have quietly played very good basketball after a sluggish start of their own. Indiana has gone 9-2 in their last 11 games behind a breakthrough season by Paul George and a stifling defense that is currently allowing the least points in the NBA.
Tonight will be the first matchup between these two teams this season.
Keys to the game:
How does Avery Bradley’s return help Boston’s defense?
Doc Rivers has been highly disappointed by the defensive effort his team has displayed of late. The good news for the Celtics however is that Avery Bradley is finally healthy to play after injuries to both shoulders caused him to miss the opening 30 games of the season.
Bradley is a ball-hawk who truly ignited the Celtics defense last season when he was inserted into the starting lineup. His on-ball defense was sorely missed and though he only stands 6’2” his long wingspan allows him to successfully defend much taller two-guards. Obviously other guys will need to step up their defensive intensity but having Bradley back in the lineup should help matters.
Coming into tonight, only two teams score less points per game than the Indiana Pacers (91.8). The fact that the Pacers aren’t exactly world-beaters on the offensive end could bode well for the C’s.
How do the Boston Celtics stop Paul George?
In his past 11 games, George has averaged 19.6 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 46.1 percent from the field. Not coincidentally the Pacers have played their best basketball of the season despite Roy Hibbert’s continued struggles and a floundering offense.
George is a problematic matchup for the Celtics as he towers over Avery Bradley at 6’8” and his combination of athleticism and speed gives him a distinct advantage over Paul Pierce. The Celtics will need to bring an A effort tonight in order to stop George.
Will Paul Pierce get back on track?
Pierce has struggled of late, only averaging 14.0 points a game off of 36.1 percent shooting in his last five games. A solution to help “The Truth” and his shooting woes is to attack and get to the line more. Though he is shooting an impressive 81.9 percent from the stripe, Pierce has only attempted nine foul shots in the past five games.
An aggressive Paul Pierce on the offensive end will open things up for his teammates and could go a long way in ending this season long losing streak for the Celtics.