Pacers ride hot streak into challenging matchup with Celtics
The Indiana Pacers did not get much time to enjoy their latest win.
Shortly after finishing off a 12-point victory over the Nets in Brooklyn on Sunday, they were taking a flight back home and devising a game plan to beat the Boston Celtics.
The Pacers will find out if their preparation translates into a win Monday night when they host the top team in the Eastern Conference.
“We know how good they are,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “We haven’t had success against those guys, really, in the last couple of years. Really, we got to try to get out of here quickly, get home and try to defend home court.”
Indiana (17-13) enters its second meeting with the Celtics (25-7) with five wins in its last seven games after Victor Oladipo scored 26 points in a 109-97 win over Brooklyn on Sunday.
The Pacers are 10-5 in their past 15 games since getting off to a 6-8 start. Indiana also is trying to match a season high by going five games above .500.
The Pacers were five games above .500 at 16-11 after Oladipo scored a career-high 47 points in an overtime win against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 10 but followed with comebacks that fell short against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Detroit Pistons.
“They’re a great team, and we’re going to have to be ready to play,” Oladipo said of the Celtics. “Simple as that. They’re playing really well. They’re the number one team in the Eastern Conference.
“They do a great job of playing together, and we’re going to have to do a great job of playing together as well. It’s going to be a tough game, especially coming off a back-to-back, so we’re going to have to be ready to play.”
The Pacers are facing the Celtics for the second time this season but the first time with Oladipo, who is averaging a career-high 24.4 points while producing personal bests in shooting percentage (.478) and 3-point accuracy (.433).
On Nov. 25, Oladipo sat with a bruised right knee when Boston visited Indiana. Lance Stephenson scored 16 points as the starting shooting guard during a 108-98 loss in which the Pacers shot 48.7 percent but blew a 13-point lead.
In the first meeting with the Celtics, the Pacers were outscored 63-44 in the second half. Indiana shot 41 percent and missed 10 of 11 3-point attempts while being outscored 26-16 in the paint after halftime.
Since sitting out, Oladipo is averaging 27.5 points, shooting 50.5 percent from the field and making 41.6 percent of his 3-point tries in his past 10 games.
When Boston beat the Pacers for the fourth straight time, its record was 18-3. In 11 games since then the Celtics have gone 7-4, and they have alternated wins and losses over the past six games.
The Celtics turned in two of their worst displays of the season last week in a Monday loss at Chicago, 108-85, and a Friday home loss to the Utah Jazz, 107-95. Those games are part of a stretch that has seen the Celtics allow 102.5 points per game since their last meeting with Indiana.
Boston rebounded nicely from the Friday loss with a 102-93 win at Memphis on Saturday. The Celtics held the Grizzlies to 40.5 percent shooting and improved to 18-0 when limiting an opponent to 45 percent or less.
Boston held Memphis scoreless for the first 5 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter with a lineup of rookie Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Shane Larkin, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis. According to NBA.com, that group never played together until combining for 14 points in a 16-0 run, but the change was needed after Marc Gasol shredded Boston’s defense for 21 points in the third quarter.
“I thought Al being in there gave us a little bit of a presence to go to,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “He made a huge basket at the end of the third to just kind of stem the tide, and then I thought his play at the beginning of the fourth was great.”
The Saturday win occurred after Stevens questioned the team’s effort against Utah and lambasted his team’s rebounding in a 124-118 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.
“It was great,” Horford said of the effort against the Grizzlies. “We came out with a lot of good energy, then they made their run, we handled it, they made another run in the third and we stayed composed and just kept with it.”
Boston guard Kyrie Irving scored 20 points Saturday, and he is averaging 24.2 points this season. In his past five games, Irving is averaging 27.6 points and shooting 47.5 percent (19 of 40) from 3-point range.