Game Preview: Celtics at Pacers

BOSTON – One streak’s end means another streak’s beginning. That’s what the Boston Celtics (23-5) will be thinking heading into tonight’s 7 p.m. matchup with the Indiana Pacers (13-15) in Conseco Fieldhouse.

The Celtics had a lengthy winning streak snapped on Christmas Day for the second time in three seasons this past weekend, as the Magic overcame them in an 86-78 game that was decided in the final minutes. That loss snapped a 14-game win streak, which is the longest the NBA has seen this season. During the 2008-09 season, the Celtics’ 19-game win streak was snapped by the Lakers on Christmas Day.

Two days have passed since that disappointing loss and the C’s can now look forward to a new beginning. Boston will resume its schedule tonight against the Pacers, whom the Celtics knocked off 99-88 on Dec. 19 in the TD Garden. That final score would indicate that Indiana couldn’t hang with the Celtics, but that was certainly not the case.

Their first meeting of the season was a four-point game with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter thanks to an all around effort by the Pacers. Two players, in particular, stood out in their performances to help Indiana hang around. Roy Hibbert led the game with 14 rebounds and also scored 17 points, and T.J. Ford came off the bench to provide a spark with 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting.

However, the Pacers simply couldn’t stay on Boston’s level down the stretch as Paul Pierce and Glen Davis led their team to victory.

Davis scored eight of his 18 points in the final 5:26 and Pierce notched his first triple-double in nearly four years. Overall, the Celtics had five players finish in double-figures, led by Pierce and Nate Robinson’s 18 points apiece.

But while their offensive performances stand out from a day in which the Celtics shot 53.9 percent from the floor, the defense is what likely earned that victory in the end.

Indiana made only one field goal over the final 5:44 of the game while shooting 1-of-9 from the floor. While Hibbert did score 17 points, he made only eight of his 23 field goal attempts, and the Pacers’ star player, Danny Granger, shot a lowly 5-of-20 from the field. Granger’s 19 points were a game-high, but they came during an inefficient performance with which the small forward had to have been upset with.

Outside of the fact that Boston turned the ball over 18 times during that contest, the team played a very good basketball game. It shot and rebounded the ball effectively and received big performances from numerous players. Still, though, Indiana hung around until the final minutes despite poor shooting performances from its top players.

The pressure of continuing a win streak is now off the Celtics’ shoulders and its time to start anew. Rajon Rondo practiced with the team on Monday and may return to the lineup tonight. while Jermaine O’Neal will be playing in his second straight game. If those two play tonight, combined with the team's opportunity to start a new streak, it really is a new beginning for the Celts. Boston can get back on the winning trek tonight, but the Pacers will be looking to prevent that from happening with the help of better shooting performances by its top players.

Keep the Pace

Boston is capable of winning any type of game, but the team is at its best when it’s forcing the opponent to play at a slow pace. The C’s rank 21st in the league in possessions per game, at 93.1, which means they like to play in the half court as much as anyone.

When Indiana came to the Garden on Dec. 19, the Pacers certainly didn’t acquiesce to Boston’s wishes. The Pacers took a ridiculous 96 shots, which were 20 more than the Celtics attempted (76).

In the end, elite defense was able to overcome all of those shot attempts. The C’s limited Indiana to only 35.4 percent shooting from the field and Boston actually made seven more field goals than the Pacers. It’s unlikely that Indiana will shoot so poorly again tonight, though, so Boston has to prevent the Pacers from playing at such a high pace this time around.

Big Reserves

Outside of Hibbert, the Pacers do not have another formidable center on its roster. Solomon Jones (6-foot-10), Jeff Foster (6-foot-11) and Tyler Hansbrough (6-foot-9) are the other big guys Indiana will send onto the court, and that foursome should have no shot at keeping up with Boston’s bigs.

With Jermaine O’Neal now back in the rotation alongside Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis and Semih Erden, the Celtics are approaching full strength in the frontcourt. Kendrick Perkins is the only big man who remains on the inactive list.

The Celtics got limited production from Jermaine O’Neal in his first game back, as he notched only two points and two rebounds in 10 minutes of action on Saturday against the Magic, but he will surely come around soon. With he and Davis holding down the top two reserve spots for Boston’s frontcourt, the C’s should be able to dominate around the paint while the second units are on the floor.