The Boston Celtics will look to build on their big win against the Knicks against another struggling Eastern Conference team
In a matchup against two under performing Eastern Conference teams, the Boston Celtics are looking to make sure their turnaround against the New York Knicks was not just a fluke. The Indiana Pacers had similarly high hopes this season, and for all their struggles, can get back to .500 with a victory against the Celtics.
The lineup change by Stevens appeared to give them the boost they needed. Both Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk had a huge impact on the game, and allowed them to have avoid the first quarter disasters that lost them the two previous games.
The Celtics can feel better about that Knicks performance, but the moment Carmelo Anthony got ejected, the Knicks had no place competing with the Celtics. It was a dominant performance, but they still did not solve the problems that lead to them getting blown out. The difference is that they finally started doing some of the other things that leads to success, mainly generating turnovers.
The Celtics finally had a game where they took over because of their defense. They were still disastrous on the boards and had little resistance in the paint. That being said, generating 25 turnovers was more than enough to make up for the 21 offensive rebounds given up.
The good news for Boston is that the Pacers are a team that has had some turnover problems. They are right around the middle of the league with 15 a game, but a top 10 assist to turnover ratio suggests it may be more difficult to be as disruptive against the Pacers. Even if it will be more difficult, the Celtics should now realize that this current roster absolutely needs turnovers to win games. It is the one defensive strength they have left, and that needs to be how they make up for multiple areas that they will struggle in.
The Celtics have felt the loss of Jae Crowder and Al Horford in a horrible way, and this may be the game where Crowder’s absence is felt the most. Paul George is one of the premier players in the East, and Crowder would have been matched up to him the entire game. Now, Smart will get that assignment. Smart’s versatility has been on full display, and he has managed to look comfortable in a multitude of undersized match ups. George, however, will be the toughest assignment, and he will need help from Amir Johnson behind him in order to avoid the small forward taking over the game.
Mar 15, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) looks to pass the ball while Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) defends in the second half of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana Pacers defeat Boston Celtics 103-98.Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Normally, the Pacers would not be a team you have to fear dominates the game with rebounding, but that is the one area the Celtics cannot take anything for granted. The Pacers still have a rebounding differential that is 3.5 better than the Celtics, showing how much worse the Celtics have been than even the poorer rebounding teams.
If the Pacers can manage to have a dominant game on the boards, that could become the difference maker for them. The Pacers have seen Myles Turner take a big step this year, and that could be the most disruptive matchup. The Celtics do not have another Smart they can throw at him, meaning the front court will have to find a way to handle the second year player.
Turner has more talent than a lot of the bigs that have destroyed the Celtics on the boards in the past two games, and they need to find a way to contain him. Olynyk had a solid outing as a starter but he will need to hit a new gear if he is going to give enough paint protection with an undersized Johnson.
Avery Bradley will draw the new big addition for the Pacers in Jeff Teague. This is a matchup that he has some familiarity with as they have faced off multiple times in the past. With the amount of pressure on Smart and the front court against their bigs, Bradley needs to win this matchup in a big way. Bradley needs to make sure he is disruptive, forcing the bigs into uncomfortable situations.
The Pacers have been a strong assist team, and Teague has lead the way in that area. Bradley cannot give him any leeway, and he needs to make sure Teague is not able to get the Pacers into their most comfortable offense.
The Celtics will have their hands full with a strong set of forwards, and they will need to excel in other areas in order to make up for that. One of the lone bright spots for the Celtics this year has been their three point shooting. The Celtics have been better than expected across the board, and they need to keep that going against the Pacers. Ball movement will always be key, and the Celtics offense looked comfortable at every level against the Knicks. Isaiah Thomas is having yet another career year, and he needs to continue getting the Celtics in that offensive rhythm that has them so improved this season.
Olynyk appears to have found his form, and the Celtics can make up for a lot of their problems if they can continue their strong three point shooting. The Pacers rank 10th worst in the league giving up 35.6 percent from beyond the arc. The Pacers have been doing a great job of generating turnovers this year, and that is going to be where they will try to slow down Boston.
The Celtics have ben using great and balanced ball movement this season, and that cannot change against a dangerous defensive team in the Pacers. The Celtics need to make sure they dictate the terms of this game. They cannot allow the front court to be the deciding factor, and the most important thing to watch for will be the turnover battle.