Game Preview: Celtics at Pacers

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – When the ball goes up at 7 p.m. tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Boston Celtics (30-24) will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak and the Indiana Pacers (34-21) will be looking to hold the Celtics off.

Boston heads into the contest at its low point since the All-Star break but is still in first place in the Atlantic Division. With a win tonight in Indiana, Boston would crawl within 2.5 games of the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, which is currently held by the Pacers.

In order to grab that win, however, the Celtics will need to play much better basketball than they displayed Thursday night in Chicago. When that 93-86 loss concluded, Doc Rivers let it be known to the world that he was troubled by the approach his team took to that game.

“I thought this was the worst approach to a game all year for us,” Rivers said.

Seconds later, he dropped this bomb, too: “This was an unacceptable effort for us tonight. It was a crime.”

Those are the strongest words Rivers has used to describe his team’s effort since declaring its Feb. 10 performance in Toronto “awful.” Boston lost that game by a score of 86-74, and many of the same issues from that game showed face Thursday night.

First and foremost, the Celtics were lackadaisical to the point where they couldn’t even inbound the ball safely on several occasions. They committed eight turnovers in the second half alone, allowing the Bulls to erase an 11-point halftime deficit and win by seven.

“We just thought that we were cool [Thursday]. We were the cool Celtics,” Rivers said after the game. “We were walking the ball around and having trouble getting it inbounds. No one wanted to work. You don't play basketball like that.”

Rivers was clearly trying to deliver a message to its team as it heads into the middle portion of a brutal five-game stretch. The Celtics have lost the first two by a combined eight points, leaving tonight’s game against the Pacers as a near must-win.

Indiana won’t go down without a fight, though. This Pacers team is rising up the NBA ladder and has won four in a row. The Pacers are coming off of a monumental victory last night over the league’s best team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Danny Granger led the Pacers to victory with his team-high 26 points, while Roy Hibbert contributed 21 points and 12 boards against former Celtics center Kendrick Perkins. The Pacers had seven players score at least eight points in last night’s big victory.

Boston and Indiana have split their two games this season, which makes tonight’s game even more important. If the teams happen to tie for the third-best record in the East, the winner of tonight’s game will win that tie.

Needless to say, this game is immensely significant for both the Celtics and the Pacers.

Limit Their Balance

What makes the Pacers so good is that they don’t rely on one player to win all of their games. The team has balance in nearly every facet of the game, and that’s how Indiana beat the Celtics in Boston back on Jan. 6.

There were six Pacers who scored at least 11 points in the game. None of them scored more than 15. Indiana also saw four players grab at least five rebounds and six players dish out at least two assists. That balance led to an 87-74 victory in TD Garden.

In Boston’s win over the Pacers on Jan. 27, all of those numbers went down. Only four players scored more than eight points, only four grabbed more than three rebounds and only four players total dished out an assist.

In order to win this game, the Celtics need to limit Indiana’s well-balanced attack. It won’t be easy, but we’ve seen it done before.

Watch Out for the Other Paul

Paul Pierce is clearly the most well-known Paul in this game, but keep your eyes our for Paul George. If Rivers opts to stick with Avery Bradley as the starting shooting guard, George is going to have a drastic size advantage at that position.

George stands at 6-foot-8 and has superior athleticism . Bradley is just 6-foot-2 and weighs 35 pounds less than George.

Indiana foresees George turning into a great player in this league thanks to that incredible size and athleticism combined with his solid shooting. He is making 45.5 percent of his shots and 39.0 percent of his 3s this season. He is also coming off of a 16-rebound night last night. Expect the Pacers to turn to him for a lot of shots, a lot of points and a lot of boards tonight if this size mismatch exists throughout the night.

Respond to the Call

Rivers doesn’t call his players out publicly very often. In fact, he even admitted that Thursday may have been the first time in the Big Three era that he has used such harsh words to describe his team’s play.

In short, Rivers called his players out with the goal of motivating them. The question is, will they respond?

If you know these Celtics, you know that they typically thrive in adverse situations. They’ve overcome everything from injuries to shocking trades to life-saving surgeries.

This adversity isn’t as strong as the ones listed above, but it’s still a hurdle to get over. Boston’s head coach did not like what he saw on Thursday, and he hopes that his players will avoid that type of play when they take the court tonight.