Countdown to Tipoff: Celtics at Pacers 120114
Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 7 p.m.
Countdown to Tipoff: Pacers (8-3) vs. Celtics (4-6)
By Conrad Brunner
SCOUTING THE PACERS: A quick glance at the standings gives you a sense of the Pacers' position. At 8-3, they are in a three-way tie for second in the Eastern Conference. They also are just one game out of seventh. It promises to be a wild ride up on the playoff ladder in the East this season, and so the opportunity presented tonight should not be taken lightly. The Pacers can take a 2-0 series lead against the mighty Celtics by protecting their homecourt, which they've done well this season, going 4-0. But slow starts have plagued the Pacers, a dangerous trend. They fell behind Toronto by 16 in the second quarter Friday night before rallying to win 95-90. They did so thanks largely to George Hill, who scored a season-high 22 and had five steals off the bench to continue his recent surge (12.5 points, .507 shooting in the last eight games). They compensated nicely for the absence of Danny Granger, tossed late in the first half for picking up his second technical foul. Granger appeared to snap out of a shooting funk with 24 on 9-of-16 from the floor in the win over Atlanta Wednesday but was 1-of-8 in Toronto and is now at .325 for the season. Roy Hibbert narrowly missed his seventh double-double and has averaged 15.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in the last six but the career .731 shooter has struggled at the line, hitting just .647. Indiana is 7-0 when scoring at least 90, 6-0 when winning the board, 6-0 when winning points in the paint and 5-0 when holding opponents below 90.
SCOUTING THE CELTICS: No doubt Boston comes to town with Indiana's 87-74 victory in TD Garden on Jan. 6 in mind but the Celtics have bigger problems to contend with than a thirst for revenge. They've lost three in a row, all at home, and at 4-6 are presently not in the top eight in the East. Though that certainly will turn around at some point, the question is how thorough the recovery can be with a thin frontcourt and aging perimeter scorers. In their losing streak, the Celtics have averaged 79.3 points, just 33 in the first half. That includes tying the franchise record with just 25 in the first half against the Pacers. They, too, have been slow starters, missing 21 of their first 26 shots in an 88-79 loss to the Bulls Friday but they rallied nicely, cutting a 19-point deficit to one before Chicago regained control. Coach Doc Rivers replaced former Pacer Jermaine O'Neal in the starting lineup with Brandon Bass, who had 10 points and nine rebounds against the Bulls, and reportedly is considering making that a full-time switch. Boston is 0-5 against teams with winning records.
KEY MATCHUP: The Pacers have been one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league this season, averaging 17.0 second-chance points per game. The Celtics, on the other hand, have been outscored 60-19 on the offensive glass in their three-game skid (including 19-5 by the Pacers). In a game featuring two strong defensive teams, there are going to be plenty of missed shots, so the battle on the offensive glass promises to be critical.
QUOTE MARKS: "We know that's a great team coming in. They're going to be bitter about up there so they're going to try to get one back. We have to be focused, cut down transition, stop their three- or four-headed monster and play as a team." - George Hill
INJURY REPORT: For the Pacers, Danny Granger (sprained L ankle) and George Hill (sore lower back) are day-to-day. For the Celtics, none to report.
TICKETS: Buy now | Lucas Oil Family Night
BROADCAST INFO: The game will be telecast at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports Indiana with Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner calling the game with Brooke Olzendam hosting the pre-game show at 6:30. The radio broadcast is anchored by the flagship of the Pacers' network, WIBC 93 FM, featuring Mark Boyle in his 24th season of play-by-play with longtime partner Bobby "Slick" Leonard, with Kevin Lee reporting.
INTERACT: You can get in-game commentary from this group of Pacers personalities throughout the game on Twitter.