UPDATE: Shaquille O’Neal will start and Semih Erden will also play, but will be limited with a groin pull. For the Pacers, Celtic killer and rebounding maven Jeff Foster gets the start at power forward in place of injured Josh McRoberts
1 P.M. ET
Boston: 107.2 points/100 possessions (7th)
Indiana: 100.9 points/100 possessions (22nd)
Boston: 96.3 points allowed/100 possessions (1st)
Indiana: 100.5 points allowed/100 possessions (9th)
Probable Pacers starters: Darren Collison (PG), Mike Dunleavy (SG), Danny Granger (SF), Josh McRoberts (PF), Roy Hibbert (C)
View From The Opposing Bench: Eight Points, Nine Seconds
Thumbnail: The Celtics host a Pacers team that has lost three of its last four, but remains a pleasant surprise so far this season. Larry Bird’s rebuilding project is finally picking up some steam with Collison in the PG spot, Hibbert making a bid for most improved player and a roster built around good character guys and increased cap flexibility. Unfortunately for the Pacers, ‘increased cap flexibility’ will not help them score against the stingy Celtics defense this afternoon. Even with the latest injury to the C’s big man corps (Semih Erden has an injury to his groin or “kasik” if you prefer the Turkish), the Green are poised to win their 13th in a row. Just don’t expect it to be easy.
WHAT THE PACERS DO WELL:
Defend and Compete: The Jim O’Brien Pacers are starting to resemble the Jim O’Brien Celtics of yesteryear. The Pacers play tough defense, holding opponents to the second lowest eFG% in the league (they’re actually slightly better than Boston on this front) and have a tower in the middle in Hibbert to deter drives to the rim; Indiana is tied for first in the league in block rate.
Get Movin’ and Get Shootin’: The Pacers are one of the faster-paced teams in the league and in true O’brien fashion, they love to jack up the three-ball. If Boston can control tempo and close out on the Pacers’ shooters (watch the Granger-Pierce matchup in particular, as the Pacers’ SF can get three-happy), they can neutralize the effectiveness of this lower tier offense by forcing them away from the rim and the arc and into low-percentage mid-range shots.
Of course, the Pacers do have a surprise win over the Lakers this year, proving they can catch good teams off guard – if good teams come into games off guard. The Celtics have had a few slow starts lately but with every victory accrued, they prove themselves a different team from the one that blew so many games to bad teams last season.
WHAT THE PACERS DO POORLY:
Actually Make Shots. Poor is an overstatement but Indiana’s quick pace means although they score enough to be mediocre, their percentages across the major shooting categories are middle-of-the-pack or worse. This is a team that can shoot itself out of the game, if you give it enough incentive. The smart money says Boston will do just that and put together a good defensive game (and, admittedly, probably a less-than-impressive offensive performance).
Take Care Of The Ball. Even Boston is more proficient at holding onto the ball than Indiana. That’s more than a bit damning. Rajon Rondo’s absence removes a significant advantage against the turnover-prone Pacers.
Offensive rebound. Boston is an elite defensive rebounding team. The Pacers are a bad offensive rebounding team. You do the math.
PLAYERS WHO MAKE ME WORRY:
Hibbert – I’m less worried than I am fascinated by the Pacers’ center. Ticketed as too slow of foot when he arrived in the league, Hibbert dropped a bunch of offseason weight and it has paid significant dividends. His 14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 19.14 PER suggests he’s a borderline all-star (or at least in the conversation) but what I love about him is his old school size and approach. And with his new svelte figure, he’s more mobile on the court and can make better use of his passing ability (he’s fourth in the league in assists amongst centers). I have a whole list of guys in the league who would make good future Celtics. Hibbert is one of them.
Collison – curiously out of place in Indiana despite being their best PG option. O’Brien has seemed reticent to use him for key minutes. Still, I remain enamored of him for his work in New Orleans while Chris Paul was injured last year. An advantage for Indiana over Nate Robinson – assuming O’Brien chooses to exploit it.
PLAYERS WHO DO NOT MAKE ME WORRY:
Granger. For me, he’s almost the textbook definition of big, empty numbers on a so-so team. Unless he gets hot from the arc, Boston will control him.
McRoberts. Good luck against the rejuvenated KG, Josh. You’ll need it.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE FROM BOSTON TODAY:
NO. MORE. INJURIES.
At this point, a win is almost less important than avoiding the sight of another Celtic heading to the locker room with some sort of pull/tear/soreness/ache/break/sucking chest wound.
Of course, a Boston win is still the most likely outcome and anything else will likely be as a result of the C’s not putting in sufficient effort.
So, let’s say – sufficient effort.
Boston 105 Indiana 101