C's Set the Tone in Game 1 With Defensive Masterpiece vs. Indy

BOSTON – The NBA has been trending in an offensive direction over the last few seasons, but in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Sunday afternoon, the Boston Celtics brought defense back in style.

Putting forth its most defensively-suffocating postseason effort in nine years, Boston held the Indiana Pacers to 74 points on 33.3 percent shooting at TD Garden. The Celtics didn't fare much better on the offensive end, as they were limited to just 84 points of their own, but it was enough to escape with a double-digit victory and a 1-0 series lead.

Indy, which averaged 108.0 points per game during the regular season, had not fallen below the 89-point mark all year. However, Boston’s players felt confident in their defensive presence heading into the first-round matchup.

“I knew that our length and our versatility were going to be a positive for us, especially in this series,” said Kyrie Irving, whose 20 points represented a game-high in the scoring column along with teammate Marcus Morris. “We know them very well. We’ve played them four times throughout the year. We know each other pretty well. So defensively I think we’re going to be in the right spots. It’s just matching that effort and being smart about it and who we wanted to gap off of and really focusing in on the game plan, just doing the right things.”

By doing the right things, Boston accomplished what only two defenses could in 2460 tries over the course of the regular season: hold a team to fewer than 75 points.

Interestingly, Indiana was the team that set the tone defensively Sunday afternoon, as it outscored Boston 45-38 during the first half. The Celtics didn’t fret, however, as they went back into their locker room at halftime and re-focused.

“I think that we understand the position that we’re in,” Irving said of Boston’s mentality during the break. “There’s no time to really hamper on the mistakes that happen in the first half. At this point it’s really just the next thing: What’s the next thing that we can impact the game? What’s the next thing that we have to do to be more locked in? And when you have that type of mentality then there’s no time to be fixated on all the mistakes.”

When the C’s returned to the court, they were locked in and ready to go. Now it was their turn to display their defensive dominance.

Boston didn’t allow a single field goal until the 3:28 mark of the third quarter – and even that one didn’t actually fall through the net, as it came via goaltending. The Pacers were outscored 26-8 during that third quarter, and things didn’t get much brighter from there. They dropped in only two field goals during the first five minutes of the fourth and wound up finishing the second half with just 29 points on 24.7 percent shooting from the field, including a 7.1 percent clip from 3-point range.

“We were really connected, and we were really playing hard and we were really flying around,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of his team’s strong second half. “That doesn’t mean you always get stops and there’s probably some bounces that didn’t go their way. We gave up two or three, maybe four rolls and dunks or layups there in the second quarter and we wanted to be a lot better at protecting the rim and the paint first.”

From an offensive standpoint, the Celtics know that they could have done better, having shot a season-low 36.4 percent from the field. Though, they're also aware that buckets are not easy to come by against a physical team like Indiana, which surrendered the fewest points in the league this season.

Fortunately, Boston didn’t need a lot of offense to get by Indy Sunday afternoon, all thanks to its collective ability to match the Pacers’ physicality and make things difficult on them whenever they had possession of the ball.

“I think that's playoff basketball; I think it starts on the defensive end,” said paint-clogging specialist Aron Baynes. “You saw how physical it was out there on both ends. It's about going out there and valuing every possession. You can't take your foot off the gas. You saw what happened in the last few minutes when we did, so it's important to go out and do it every single time and making the most of it, loving the opportunity to go out there and value every possession.”

By valuing every possession Sunday afternoon, the Celtics were able to put forth their most dominant defensive effort of the season. In doing so, they’ve set the tone for what is shaping up to be a physical, defensive-minded series, in which they now hold a 1-0 advantage.


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