Five Takeaways from the First Round
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics completed a four-game sweep of the Indiana Pacers Sunday afternoon, as they became the first NBA team to punch their ticket into the second round.
Before looking ahead to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, let’s take a look back at five things we learned about the C’s during their dominant first-round performance.
No.1 – Playoff Kyrie Looks Great in Green
Playoff Kyrie used to give the Boston Celtics nightmares. Now, he’s the key to their postseason dreams.
Irving exploited Boston twice during his playoff ventures with Cleveland, but the Celtics finally got to have the All-Star point guard on their side for a postseason series. He turned out to be exactly what they had hoped for: a dominant presence on both ends of the court.
Irving led the series in scoring and assisting, averaging 22.5 points and 7.8 assists per game. That included a 37-point Game 2 effort, in which he shot 15-of-26 from the field. He also had a 10-assist effort in Game 3, helping him earn his fourth career playoff double-double.
On the other side of the ball, he corralled 4.5 rebounds per game and snagged a team-high 1.3 steals per game. He also blocked three shots during the series, which tied him for the team lead with Al Horford.
Irving may not always get the recognition he deserves on the defensive end, but his impact there was evident throughout the series, particularly in crunch time when he made numerous game-sealing plays.
After spending years trying to combat Playoff Kyrie, the Celtics finally have him on their side. So far, he’s been everything they’d hoped he would be.
No. 2 – Scoring Options Aplenty
Irving wasn’t the only engine that kept Boston’s offense chugging away during the first round. Boston had numerous scoring options to which it was able to turn, which kept Indiana on its toes throughout the entire series.
The Celtics remarkably had a different player lead or share the team high in scoring during all four games.
In Game 1, Irving and Marcus Morris led the charge with 20 points apiece. In Game 2, Irving erupted for a series-high 37. Game 3 was all Jaylen Brown, as the third-year wing poured in 23 points on a near-perfect 8-of-9 shooting effort from the field. And Game 4 was Gordon Hayward’s chance to shine in his hometown, as the Indiana native dropped 20 points on the Pacers during the series-clinching win.
We haven’t even mentioned the most efficient offensive player in the series, Jayson Tatum, who averaged 19.3 PPG while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from deep.
In all, the Celtics saw six players average in double-figures, with a different player taking charge in each game. Having so many options should bode well for Boston as it moves deeper into the Playoffs.
No. 3 – A Defense to be Reckoned With
What also bodes well for the Celtics is the way their defense performed during the first round. They held Indiana under 100 points during three out of four games, including the opening contest when they allowed just 74 points to be scored on their home court.
The only game during which Indiana broke 100 points was Game 4, after Boston had already effectively ended the series and took a step back defensively during the final minute.
In all, Boston allowed just 91.8 points per game, which is a 16.2-point improvement from its regular-season average. It also produced a 95.8 defensive rating, which is nearly 10 points better than Milwaukee’s NBA leading mark of 104.9 during the regular season.
The Celtics allowed Indiana to shoot just 40.1 percent from the field and, thanks to its postseason-leading defensive rebounding percentage of 80.4 percent, they dominated on the boards, 191-161.
“For the most part, we’ve just been a bit more technically sound,” C’s coach Brad Stevens said of the team’s defensive effort. “I think that’s the one thing – there’s a lot of meaningfulness on every possession, and we’re playing with the right urgency.”
As they say, “Defense wins championships.” If the Celtics continue their dominance on that end of the court, they could be on their way to a lengthy postseason run.
No. 4 – Scary Terry has Returned
Boston’s success on the defensive end comes with a bit of irony: it played the entire first round without perhaps its most impactful defender, Marcus Smart.
Fortunately, the Celtics have a backup guard in Terry Rozier who is capable of providing Smart-esque tenacity, which he displayed all throughout the series.
Rozier stated before the Playoffs began that this was his time to shine. He lived up to his word by producing the best defensive rating on the team with a mark of 84.8. The fourth-year guard also had the second-highest net rating on the team at 14.5.
“We all know he can go to a level physically and competitively that can be effective, especially at this time of year,” Stevens said of Rozier at the conclusion of the series. “Every minute he played felt impactful.”
Rozier showed last postseason that he was able to step up to fill a void, when he took Kyrie Irving’s place in the starting rotation and became an offensive power. This postseason, he has been called upon to be a defensive force, and so far, he has delivered once again.
No. 5 – Road Improvement
The Celtics struggled last postseason on the road, winning just one of eight games outside of TD Garden. They’ve already doubled that road win total this postseason in one quarter of the attempts.
Boston went 2-0 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where it won by an average of six points per game. Both contests required the C’s to grind it out down the stretch, which is an arduous thing to do on the road during the postseason.
Such a feat requires poise and incredible desire, both of which the C’s displayed in Indiana, where they were able to wrap up the series in just four games.
Those traits must carry over into the second round, where Boston will likely face the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, whose league-best regular-season record clinched them home-court advantage throughout the Playoffs.
Milwaukee won all three of its home playoff games against Boston last season. However, the C’s have a far more talented and experienced team than they did last spring, which has already made a profound impact on their road performances so far. Boston also showed that it can hang with the Bucks at Fiserv Forum, where it played one game during the regular season and lost by just one point.