12/11 Game Preview: Celtics at Pacers
Surging Boston heads into Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday night a winner in six of its past seven games, matched up with an up-and-down Indiana Pacers' bunch.
The Celtics are winners of four straight in this current run, with each of the past three coming by at least 13 points. Coach Brad Stevens credits All-Star guard Kemba Walker for setting the tone, as Boston's been effective closing out both a contender in the Denver Nuggets and a sputtering Cleveland Cavaliers' side.
"I just told the team afterwards, I said, 'If you want to be special, then model after Kemba,'" Stevens said in his postgame press conference following the 110-88 rout of Cleveland on Monday. "Special's not for everybody, but that's just different. That's just always ready, always ready to be called upon, always loving to play. You know, he's not untying his shoes, he's staying ready because he knows this game can change in a heartbeat."
Walker's point-per-game average is his lowest since 2015-16, the last campaign in which he failed to qualify for the Eastern Conference All-Star team. But he has been asked to carry less of the load in Boston compared to his time in Charlotte, evident in a 21.8-points per game output that makes him one of three Celtics averaging north of 20 per night.
Jayson Tatum is posting 21.1 points a game, while Jaylen Brown is averaging 20. Along with defensive-stopper Marcus Smart, the group combines to give Boston one of the most formidable backcourts in the NBA -- and the quartet has led the way to the Eastern Conference's second-best record.
The scoring punch will only get stronger with Gordon Hayward back after missing one month with a fractured left hand. Hayward made his return on Monday and scored 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting in 26 minutes.
Boston's perimeter-oriented look contrasts against an Indiana side with a dynamic, young frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. The 22-year-old Sabonis is having a career year through the first two months of 2019-20, averaging 18.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game and he collected a career-best 22 boards on Monday.
Center Myles Turner's production has dipped from a season ago due in part to recovering from an ankle injury sustained in November. Still, at 2.4 blocked shots per game, the 23-year-old has been one of the NBA's better rim protectors.
While Indiana's offense has come from different spots on the floor when compared with Boston, the Pacers and Celtics are similar in their balance.
Guard Malcolm Brogdon has picked up some of the scoring slack, particularly with All-Star Victor Oladipo still not ready to return from a quadriceps injury sustained in January. Brodgon's averaging a career-best 19.1 points per game, and flourishing in the style coach Nate McMillan applies to the game.
"His demeanor is very much like mine," Brogdon told The Athletic. "He's just calm, he's pretty stoic, doesn't show a lot of emotion -- good or bad -- and that's the type of coach I want to play for, especially when you have tough games and you go through stretches where you're struggling, he's going to stay the same."
And this season has had ups-and-downs for the Pacers. After a five-game winning streak late in November, Indiana has gone 3-3, almost alternating wins and losses. They dropped a 110-99 decision their last time out, Dec. 9 against the Los Angeles Clippers.