3/10 Game Preview: Celtics at Pacers
The surging Indiana Pacers welcome the recently sputtering Boston Celtics into Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Tuesday in a matchup that tips off a crucial stretch of Eastern Conference games for both teams.
Indiana scored its sixth win in its last seven games and eighth in the last 10 on Sunday, winning 112-109 at Dallas.
The victory closed out a 4-1 road swing for the Pacers, who now embark on a stretch where three of their next four game are against teams that enter Monday: in third place in the Eastern Conference (Boston), in sixth place and one game behind Indiana (Philadelphia), and in fourth place team and two games ahead of the Pacers in fourth (Miami).
"Great win, great road trip. Now we've got to go home and take care of home (court advantage)," Victor Oladipo said in his postgame interview with Fox Sports Indiana on Sunday. "It shows our potential, especially when we have everybody healthy ... There's still a lot of season left, still a lot of room to grow, still a lot of things we need to get better at, but we're on the up."
Indiana has not fielded an entirely full-strength roster often this season. The two-time All-Star Oladipo returned from a yearlong absence due to a quadriceps injury on Jan. 29, less than a month before Jeremy Lamb sustained a season-ending ACL tear.
The Pacers concluded their road trip without Malcolm Brogdon, who left the March 4 loss at Milwaukee with a hip injury. His status is day-to-day. Doug McDermott was also scratched on Sunday with a toe injury.
Despite the absences, balanced production has buoyed Indiana. Six Pacers scored in double figures at Dallas, led by All-Star Domantas Sabonis' double-double of 20 points and 17 rebounds.
Not including Lamb, who was averaging 12.5 points per game at the time of his injury on Feb. 24, Indiana's lineup features seven players averaging between 9.5 and 18.6 points per game. The Pacers owe much of their scoring balance to effective ball distribution, with 61.7 percent of the team's made field goals coming via assist. That is one of the top 10 rates in the league.
Boston has flourished with a similarly effective scoring balance, but a rash of injuries since the All-Star break hindered the Celtics in four losses over their last five games.
Boston coughed up an 18-point, fourth-quarter lead in a March 3 overtime loss to Brooklyn with All-Star Jayson Tatum sidelined due to injury. Tatum returned for the March 4 win at Cleveland, but the Celtics were without Gordon Hayward, who sustained a knee contusion against Brooklyn, and Jaylen Brown, who tweaked his hamstring in the overtime loss to the Nets.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has also been limiting the workload of All-Star Kemba Walker, whose bothersome knee continues to give him issues.
Walker, Tatum and Hayward all played in Sunday's 105-104 loss to Oklahoma City, though Brown remained sidelined. Brown told MassLive.com he is targeting Wednesday for a return to practice, ahead of the Celtics' matchup with NBA-leading Milwaukee on Thursday.
Tuesday's matchup with Indiana is the first of two important road dates for Boston, which fell three games behind Toronto for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and now only leads Miami by 1 1/2 games.
"We've got to try our best to hold our heads high," Walker told reporters following the OKC loss. "Stuff like this happens."