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Welcome, Stephon: Now please, don’t mess it up: Celtics-Pacers Preview

Celtics: 46-13; Off. Eff. 110.8 (6th); Def Eff. 100.3 (1st)

Pacers: 25-35; Off. Eff. 107.1 (18th); Def Eff 109.0 (19th)

If Stephon Marbury really makes his Celtic debut tonight, it’s fitting that it will come against Indiana, the only other team in the NBA that boasts a point guard (Jamaal Tinsley) so hated by coaches and teammates that they banished him. For the Celtics’ sake, let’s hope that Marbury’s debut is the only drama in this game.

The Pacers are a thoroughly mediocre team that excels at nothing and ranks in the middle of the league in almost everything, and they will be missing their best player (Danny Granger) and their alleged second-best player (Mike Dunleavy Jr., who may not be as good as Troy Murphy).

Plus, the Pacers are terrible on the road (7-24). Of course, the Pacers have been strangely feisty against the league’s three elite teams, having split with the Lakers and taken a game each from Cleveland and Boston.

There are some interesting things to watch here. The Pacers push the pace (ugh, sorry), and the Celtics have had occasional trouble against fast-playing teams this season.

After Indiana won the first game of the season series, 95-79, Kevin Garnett told reporters, “That was the first time we’ve seen that kind of offense, to be honest. They did a good job of running it.” Troy Murphy, he of the 43 percent three-point shooting mark, will test the Davis/Powe/Moore combo on pick-and-pops, something KG would usually handle.

Murphy’s been averaging 19 per game since Granger’s injury, well above his 13.5 ppg average for the season. The Pacers jack it up from deep in general; about 25 percent of their shot attempts are threes, the ninth-highest percentage in the league. If the C’s close out, they’ll be fine.

As far as match-ups go, the Pacers have been playing more small line-ups since Granger aggravated a foot injury on Feb. 18. Expect to see any three of Jarrett Jack, T.J. Ford, Brandon Rush and Marquis Daniels on the court at the same time for big chunks of the game.

All of these guys have increased their scoring (or at least their field goal attempts) since Granger’s injury, especially Daniels, who’s averaging 21 per game over his last four. The Pacers smallish line-ups will allow the Celtics to continue featuring House and Rondo together and to (gulp) see how Marbury functions with the other guards.

The one player the Pacers don’t have an answer for defensively is Pierce. He’s too big for the above-mentioned four guys and too quick for everyone else on the team. Dislocated thumb and all, I expect him to attack early.

I’d also like to see Kendrick Perkins attack Jeff Foster in the post when Foster’s in at center for Roy Hibbert, who has been starting lately. Then again, I’m always happy when Perkins is involved in the offense, so perhaps you should disregard that.

Other things I’m hoping to see:

• After committing 20 turnovers against the Clippers in Wednesday’s ugly loss, let’s hope the C’s can take care of the ball against a Pacers team that’s just 19th in the league in forcing turnovers.

• More good shooting from Big Baby, who made some jumpers Wednesday that were contested a little more aggressively than his usual makes.

Anyway you slice it, this should be an easy win. And that would be nice, considering the C’s have tough home games against Cleveland and Orlando coming up next week.

After the jump, we review the season series so far against the Pacers.Game 1: The Pacers shocked the defending champs, 95-79, in the C’s third game of the season. The Pacers held Boston to 34 percent shooting, including 3-of-15 for Paul Pierce. The Celtics were characteristically sloppy with the ball (24 turnovers) and uncharacteristically sloppy from the line (21-of-35). Granger led the Pacers with 20, and Ford had 19.

Game 2: That first loss was long forgotten on Dec. 3, when the C’s destroyed Indiana 114-96 in Boston for their 10th straight win. Rajon Rondo recorded his first triple-double, and it wasn’t a cheapie: 16 points, 17 assists (!) and 13 boards. Wow. The Pacers had played a tough game the night before, beating the Lakers by one at home before flying to Boston. The Celtics killed on the boards (54-31), and even Perk got into the scoring action with 16 points.

Game 3: Four days later at Indiana, the teams finally played a close game, a 122-117 C’s win in overtime. Paul Pierce hit a clutch three-pointer with 7.5 seconds left to send the game into OT–a three set up by Eddie House’s offensive rebound of a Ray Allen miss. Ray didn’t miss much the rest of the game; he shot 7-for-12 from deep and finished with 35 points, including a three with 43 seconds to go in overtime to ice the game. The Pacers shot 50 percent from the floor, led by a nice 11-of-16 performance by Daniels.

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