Celtics-Pacers Preview

All it took for the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers to

have their most impressive all-around game of the season was their

first losing streak of 2013-14.

The Pacers will now look to stay on the winning track Sunday

when they host the slumping Boston Celtics and first-year coach

Brad Stevens as he makes his return to Indianapolis.

The Pacers (21-5) had won their first 11 at home before a

surprising 101-96 loss to Detroit last Sunday – the only time this

season the defensive-minded team has allowed 100 points on its home

floor. They followed that with a 97-94 defeat at Miami on


On the heels of their first skid since dropping the final three

games of the 2012-13 regular season – mostly due to resting the

regulars for the playoffs – the Pacers returned home Friday and

didn’t so much beat the Houston Rockets as thoroughly dismantle


“This team doesn’t like losing,” coach Frank Vogel said. “We

talked about playing mad for four quarters.”

It certainly seemed that way for Indiana, which scored a season

high while holding Houston to its season low in the 114-81 rout.

The potent Rockets, who came in averaging 107.1 points, went 32 for

84 from the field and missed 18 of 22 attempts from 3-point range

while falling behind by as many as 36.

“We always say that good teams will bounce back,” said George

Hill, who had 12 points. “That showed we’re a good team.”

Paul George scored 24 points to lead six players in double


The Pacers hit a season high 12 3-pointers, and had their

largest victory margin (33) and second-best field goal percentage

(53.1) of the season.

“It’s a good feeling because when we’re at our best, we feel

like we’re unstoppable,” George said. “It was good to come out and

play with high energy against a high-energy team.”

Indiana’s already well-balanced offense could get even better if

former All-Star Danny Granger can return to form. Granger, who

missed most of last season because of a left knee injury and had

been sidelined this season by a strained left calf, was a bit rusty

in his return and finished with five points on 1-for-7


Granger has averaged 18.1 points in his career, including 25.8

in 2008-09.

Stevens, an Indiana native, was at the helm for Butler

University from 2007-2013 before the Celtics lured him away from

the Indianapolis school. The mid-major Bulldogs reached two

straight national title games under Stevens in 2010 and 2011, but

lost both.

It was at Lucas Oil Field in Indy in 2010 when Stevens and

Butler nearly upset Duke in the NCAA championship game. Current

Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward narrowly missed a halfcourt heave

at the buzzer in the 61-59 loss.

Success hasn’t been as common for Stevens in an up-and-down

first season with Boston.

The Celtics (12-16), who were beaten 97-82 at home by the Pacers

on Nov. 22, lost for the fourth time in six games Saturday with a

106-99 defeat against Washington.

Avery Bradley scored 26 points and Jared Sullinger added 22 and

11 rebounds for Boston, which wasted an 18-point lead three days

after squandering a 21-point cushion in a 107-106 loss to the


After Jeff Green’s layup with 6:14 left gave the Celtics a 92-84

lead, they went nearly six minutes without a field goal during a

14-1 run by the Wizards.

“You have to stay focused,” Celtics guard Jordan Crawford said.

“You’ve got to step on the pedal when you have them down.”

The loss closed a 2-3 homestand for the Celtics, who return home

to face Cleveland and Atlanta after visiting Indiana.

Despite their lackluster record, which would essentially bury

them in any other division, the Celtics are neck-and-neck with

Toronto atop the NBA-worst Atlantic.

The Pacers lost four in a row against the Celtics prior to their

victory in Boston earlier this season.