Watch It! - Celtics at Pacers
Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers meet at 7 p.m. tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert went down with a sprained left ankle early on during Indiana’s loss Wednesday night at Golden State. The 7-foot-2 big man needed assistance to make it off of the court as a result of the injury.
Indiana is officially listing Hibbert as questionable for tonight’s game. That being said, it would be hard to imagine that such a large body would be able to give it a go just 48 hours after suffering a lower-body injury.
Should Hibbert miss this game, the Pacers will be missing one of the top defensive big men in the league. Hibbert ranks seventh in the league in blocks with an average of 1.82 per game. He is the rim protector for Indiana’s vaunted defense, which is tops in the league in opponent scoring. There is no doubt that the Pacers defense would drop off a level without Hibbert in the middle.
Sticking with What Works?
Brad Stevens tightened up his rotation during Wednesday night’s win over the Brooklyn Nets. Three starters logged at least 31 minutes of action, and only eight players were on the floor for more than 20 minutes. It seemed that those players were able to catch more of a rhythm with a tighter rotation.
Stevens did admit after the game that he needs to find minutes for Brandan Wright, who received a DNP-CD in Brooklyn. However, adding Wright to the rotation would extend the rotation to 11 players. That’s a lot.
It will be interesting to see what Stevens decides to do tonight. Does he go with what worked Wednesday night, or does he play 11 or more players because they’re capable of contributing? The answer could play a major role in Boston’s bid to win this game.
Dangerous Scoring Levels
As noted in the Hibbert section above, this Indiana team is elite at the defensive end of the court. It heads into tonight’s game ranked first in the league in opponent scoring (96.6 points per game) and ninth in opponent field goal percentage (44.3 percent).
Those numbers cannot excite Boston. The Celtics have been struggling – badly – to put the ball through the basket of late. They’ve averaged just 96.6 PPG on 42.8 percent shooting over their last nine games.
What’s the result of a great defense meeting a sputtering offense? Quite possibly a dangerously low scoring night for Boston.
Boston’s Defensive Tenacity
Indiana’s defense has been great all season. Boston’s defense has not been great all season, but it is coming off of a game that was very encouraging.
The Celtics set a new season-best mark Wednesday night by limiting the Nets to just 81 points. That was just the second instance this season in which Boston limited its opponent to fewer than 90 points. Boston also held Brooklyn to just 40.5 percent shooting from the field.
The team did an excellent job of executing its defensive game plan against the Nets. However, that was not the only reason why Boston was able to bottle up Brooklyn’s offense. What may have been even more important was the tenacity with which the C’s played with at the defensive end. They were in the Nets’ air space, they were diving on loose balls and they being active on all levels.
Replicating that type of effort would go a long way toward putting Boston in position to win tonight’s game. With the assumption that points will be hard to come by for the C’s, they’re going to need to play tenacious defense at the other end.
Big Game for Boston
Playing against a 14-23 team on the road wouldn’t typically qualify as a big game for the visitor. However, Friday night’s visit to Bankers Life Fieldhouse is very important to Boston.
The Celtics are coming off of a much needed victory Wednesday night in Brooklyn. That win snapped a three-game losing streak and gave the team some positive vibes at a critical time. The last thing Boston wants is to suffer a loss and have those vibes disappear.
Adding to the importance of this victory is the fact that the C’s will fly to Toronto following Friday’s game and take on the Raptors Saturday night. The Raptors have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference and are 14-4 at home.
Needless to say, grabbing a win on Saturday will be a hefty challenge for Boston. Doing so on Friday would ensure that the team will head back to Boston later this weekend with at least two wins on this three-game road trip.