Game Preview: Pacers at Celtics
BOSTON – Thursday night’s comeback victory over the Orlando Magic was epic, monumental and magical, but the Boston Celtics (8-9) will need to move on from it quickly.
Te Celtics will have a quick turnaround and play host to the Indiana Pacers (12-5) at 7:30 p.m. tonight in TD Garden. It will be the second time in a row that Boston will play Indiana the night after an 8 p.m., nationally televised game that was followed by a long plane flight.
The first time the Celtics went through that difficult back-to-back was two weeks ago, when they fell to the Chicago Bulls in a nationally televised Friday night game and then flew to Indiana, where they were defeated by the Pacers by a score of 97-83. Boston shot just 38.6 percent in that game and trailed by as many as 20 points.
Once that Bulls game wrapped up on Friday night, Doc Rivers went to work with the media to make it clear that he was unhappy with the difficulty of the back-to-back his team faced.
“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,” said Rivers. “I’ve complained about that, and it’s been the exact same team (the Pacers) every time.”
Well, it’s them again this time, Doc. The difference on this occasion, though, is that the Celtics will be playing at 7:30 p.m. at home and are coming off of a huge win rather than a debilitating loss.
Boston trailed by as many as 27 points last night in Orlando but somehow dug deep enough to pull off a shocking comeback victory. Paul Pierce led the comeback with 24 points and 10 assists, and E’Twaun Moore poured in 16 big points off the bench.
The Celtics needed everyone on their roster to deliver the goods during that comeback, and it happened. As Brandon Bass noted after the game, the victory was huge for Boston’s development as a team.
“This game was a character builder for us,” Bass said after the win. “We were down tonight and we fought back as a group starting on the defensive end, rebounding, and we rode The Truth’s back.”
Now they might have to do the same against a Pacers team that has already knocked them off two times this month.
Indiana is off to its best start in recent memory and is currently ranked third in the Eastern Conference behind only Chicago and Miami. The Pacers are built on rebounding, where they rank second in the league, and defense, where they allow the fifth-fewest points in the league.
In two meetings this season the Pacers have outrebounded the Celtics by an average of 9.5 RPG and limited Boston to an average of 78.5 PPG. Oddly enough, Boston played better in the second matchup, which was the previously mentioned road game that Rivers was upset about, than it did in the first.
The Celtics managed just 74 points against Indiana while playing in TD Garden back on Jan. 6. They shot just 39.4 percent in that game and had only one player, Ray Allen, score more than 12 points. Allen has missed the past two games with a jammed left ankle and may not play again tonight.
That may not matter, though, because the Celtics should have some extra motivation heading into this game. First of all, they’re coming off of two momentous victories over the Magic. But more importantly, Boston has to remember what they heard take place down the hall on Jan. 6.
“You just heard it in the hallway when we lost to Indiana, how excited they were,” Pierce recalled on Jan. 9.
The Pacers also rubbed the Chicago Bulls the wrong way earlier this week by celebrating a win a bit too loudly in the locker room. Tonight is Boston’s opportunity to avenge that home loss, all the while extending their winning streak to four games.
The Celtics have had enough to get by against Orlando despite missing several players. They did not have five players during Monday’s game, and on Thursday they played without three players for the entire game and one more for the final two-plus quarters.
In order to complete the big comeback, Rivers needed to ride his star players for extended minutes. Paul Pierce played more than 44 minutes and Kevin Garnett logged nearly 35 minutes. Those two will certainly be playing on tired legs tonight.
We won’t know which Celtics will be active tonight until pregame rolls around, but the hope is that Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen or Jermaine O’Neal, or all of the above will be available. The Celtics might need their minutes and production to grab this win.
Two Teams Riding High
We already know about Boston’s huge victory last night in Orlando, but we can’t forget to mention the fact that Indiana dealt the Bulls their first home loss of the season on Wednesday. The Pacers won that game by a score of 95-90 thanks to big games by Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert.
Needless to say, both teams will head into tonight’s contest with their confidence riding high. When all is said and done, though, only one team will leave the arena feeling that way.
Give the Ball to KG
Boston rode The Truth last night, but they may need to ride the Big Ticket tonight. Garnett has shot the ball very well against the Pacers this season, making 51.8 percent of his attempts en route to an average of 16.5 PPG. David West and Tyler Hansbrough haven’t been much of a challenge for him defensively, and that should continue tonight.
KG only scored 12 points last night on 6-of-14 shooting, but nearly all of those 14 attempts were right on the money. He was in rhythm and his jumper looked lively and pure. Garnett did play nearly 35 minutes last night, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have anything in the tank for this game. While he’s on the court, even if his minutes are a bit limited, the C’s should go to him time and time again.