The Boston Celtics lost a bummer to the Washington Wizards a little over 24 hours ago. Now, they’ll give it a go against the best of the best in the Eastern Conference–the Indiana Pacers. The Celtics will travel to face the Pacers a few nights after the Pacers put on a dominating win against one of the better teams in the league, the Houston Rockets.
Before their win over the Rockets the Pacers lost two straight games for the first time this season. Hopefully, they don’t still have a bad taste in their mouths. If they do, the Celtics are going to have trouble handling them on the court tonight.
For the first time in years, the Indiana Pacers have a legitimate MVP candidate. Paul George has easily been their best player since Reggie Miller this season and it isn’t even close. George is having a stellar season this year, averaging a career high in points per game at 23.8. He’s got a PER of 23.4 and is shooting a TS percentage of nearly 60%. George has developed into a superstar on the offensive end after already being a stud on D.
The Celtics are going to have their hands full containing him and the Pacers size on the inside. The Pacers have one of the best defensive front courts in the league. The C’s are going to need to keep the ball moving tonight and keep them on their toes defensively.
Now, without further ado, let’s get into our three keys.
Take Care of the Ball
I said it yesterday, and I’ll say it again here. The Boston Celtics are going to have to take care of the ball if they want to stand a chance in this game. The Pacers are the best defensive team in the league–they do it whether it’s stopping you straight up or taking the ball away from you. The Pacers force turnovers on opponents in 15.6% of their possessions according to NBA.com’s impressive stats tool.
The Celtics are one of the worst teams in the league, as most of you already know, when it comes to taking care of the ball. They have struggled with it all year long and it happened to them again yesterday as they blew their lead against the Washington Wizards. The Wizards were an aggressive defensive team so they were working to really force turnovers. The Pacers, on the other hand, will allow the turnovers to come to them and play defense straight up most of the time. The C’s can’t win if they’re not scoring and they can’t score if they’re throwing the ball away–plain and simple.
Draw fouls on the inside
The Pacers are normally a good team when it comes to playing defense without fouling. They average 19.7 fouls per game, which is a decent amount. But opponents don’t get to the line often. Pacers opponents have only averaged 20.3 free throws per game this season–that isn’t a gaudy number by any means. They’re really good at funneling into their bruising front court.
But the Pacers in losses have allowed opponents to shoot 25.4 free throws per game. Now, it’s a small sample, but it shows that if you can get to the line against the Pacers then you’re going to have a chance to win. The Celtics might struggle with that because of their lack of size on the interior and their lack of guards that are able to consistently draw fouls, but if they can manage to get to the line they’ll have a shot.
Beware of the Inside
The Indiana Pacers are one of the best teams in the league at defending the rim. That’s mainly because of David West and Roy Hibbert’s defensive combination. They’re really the ying and yang of the Pacers’ defense. The combination of Hibbert and West is something that many teams in the league have tried to replicate, but none really do it as well.
Hibbert is a less mobile player than West, but he’s a much better rim protector. He’ll sag back into the paint and defend whatever shots come his way straight up. David West is a more mobile big defender. He can hang out on the perimeter in short spurts and allow the rest of the defense to recover if they need to. He’s especially dangerous on side pick and rolls where he’s able to use the sideline to trap ball handlers. The C’s really love to run pick and roll plays from the side of the floor so they’ll need to be careful.
Hibbert and West have a defensive rating of 90.6 as a combination. They’re offensive rating is a stout 107.0 and they’ve got a net rating of 16.4. These two are a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor and the C’s will need to be aware of where they’re at at all times.