Game Preview: Celtics at Pacers

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – A tough loss to the Chicago Bulls will need to be put in the rearview mirror, and fast, for the Boston Celtics (4-6). They’re right back in action at 7 p.m. tonight when they take on the Pacers (8-3) in Indiana.

Saturday’s game will give Boston an opportunity to end a three-game losing skid against the team that started that streak eight days ago. The Pacers knocked off the C’s in Boston on Jan. 6 by a score of 87-74.

That contest marked the onset of several issues the Celtics have been experiencing during their current streak, most notably giving up offensive rebounds and getting off to slow starts. Indiana grabbed 14 offensive rebounds in that contest that led to 19 second-chance points. That total is almost equal to the amount of points the Celtics scored in the entire first half of the loss to Indiana, as they matched a franchise record with only 25 first-half points.

It’s not as if the Pacers lit up the scoreboard against the Celtics, either. They managed only 33 points in the first half of that contest. The game was up for grabs in the fourth quarter, when Ray Allen cut Indiana’s lead down to six after opening up the period with a driving layup.

Reserve guard George Hill took over after Allen’s layup, though, as he scored eight points in less than two and a half minutes to put the Celtics away.

The struggles that surfaced in that loss to Indiana were present again when Boston took on the Bulls Friday night. Chicago finished the game with 11 offensive rebounds that led to 24 points, and the Celtics scored only 13 points in the first quarter.

The good news for Boston is that it has found a way to heat up after the cold starts. The Celtics have made a dramatic comeback run against the Mavericks and Bulls in consecutive games, but they have come up just short in the end.

Shots have fallen after the first quarter, and that has certainly given this team hope. Doc Rivers can see his team coming around, especially Paul Pierce, who has struggled at the offensive end for three straight games.

“You can see it,” Rivers said Friday night. “Even early at the game, he had some explosive moves, couldn’t finish, and I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for him. But he’s doing everything right. And he’s doing everything that he possibly can do to get right.”

While Pierce and the Celtics try to get right, the Pacers are already there. They have stormed out of the gates this season to an 8-3 record and are currently tied with two other teams for the second-best record in the East, behind Chicago. Indiana knocked off the Raptors Friday night in Toronto by a score of 95-90.

Hill, the player who sparked Indiana to its win over Boston, scored 22 points Friday night to lead the Pacers. He was one of five Pacers to score in double-figures.

Saturday night’s game will be a great test for the Celtics on many levels. Indiana is a great, well-rounded team and it heads into this game ranked fifth in the league in rebounding with an average of 44.6 RPG. Boston has the talent, length and athleticism to compete with Indiana in every facet of the game. It will need to step up to that challenge, particularly on the glass, in order to hop back into the win column.

Tough Task for Starters

Friday night’s loss to the Bulls was encouraging because when things were clicking for the C’s, it made it clear that this team can compete with anyone. Boston was dominant for stretches of that game, as evidenced by their ability to turn a 20-point deficit into a one-point game in the snap of a finger.

That comeback comes with its drawbacks, though, and we may see them tonight. Boston’s starters were all on the floor for between 32 and 42 minutes on Friday to help the team stage its comeback. That’s a ton of stressful basketball minutes.

Such a game, which started at 8 p.m. and was on ESPN, was probably the last thing Rivers wanted to watch before taking a long, late-night flight to Indiana.

“This is three years in a row where we’ve had this darn game. We’ve complained about it (and) clearly the complaints have worked,” Rivers sarcastically said. “I just think it’s tough when you play an 8 o’clock game, which is a half hour longer because it’s a TV game, and then you turn around and you fly and play a 7 o’clock game. I’ve complained about that, and it’s been the exact same team (the Pacers) every time.”

Rivers clearly sees this as an enormous challenge for his team, and he noted that the Celtics have lost the last two games that were in this back-to-back setup. Boston will need some great production from the bench to pull this one out.

Finish Defensive Possessions

Boston’s defense has really looked great since its first two games of the season. Not a single team has scored more than 97 points against the Celtics in the team’s last eight games. The one issue on defense is that Boston isn’t finishing those possessions on a consistent basis. In other words, the players aren’t securing the defensive rebound.

As we noted earlier, teams have been feasting on the Celtics with second-chance points. Indiana just did it eight days ago in the Garden, and the Bulls did it last night. Boston needs to finish off its defensive possessions by getting into correct position and boxing out every player on the opposing team. If they do that tonight, Indiana will have an even more difficult time of putting points on the board, and that’s a scary thought when you consider the fact that the Pacers shot only 40.5 percent from the floor in these teams’ first meeting.

Is a Fast Start in the Cards This?

Boston just hasn’t been able to put the basketball through the hoop in the first quarter of their games. The C’s are coming off of a 13-point performance in the first quarter against Chicago on Friday night.

Rivers has consistently noted that it’s not as if his team isn’t showing up. The players are getting great looks at the hoop, but for some reason they just aren’t falling. He said after Friday’s loss that for the second straight game he was very pleased with the first eight shots Boston took. According to him, he’d take those shots on any night.

The Celtics will take those shots any night, but at some point they have to make them. Will tonight be the night that they shake off their poor shooting in the opening quarter? If the answer is yes, look for a different outcome on the scoreboard when the final buzzer sounds.