Coming into Friday night’s matchup against the Boston Celtics, the Indiana Pacers were playing spectacular basketball and having won nine of their last 11 games. Conversely, the Boston Celtics were looking to end a four-game losing streak; by turning up the defensive intensity, ultimately, that is exactly what the Celtics did. Boston held the Pacers to only 75 points on 32% shooting for the night and 23.5% from downtown. The Celtics cruised to nearly a 20-point victory against an Indiana team that was fourth in the eastern conference.
Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers chose to revert back to his former starting lineup with Brandon Bass down-low alongside Kevin Garnett. Now that Avery Bradley is back, the Celtics’ starting lineup suddenly looks very familiar. Bass and Bradley starting with Boston’s big three is the lineup that was most successful for Coach Rivers last season.
Avery Bradley doesn’t typically make a huge impact by scoring the ball, but he is among the best perimeter defenders in the league. He brings instant energy to this aging Celtics ball club and allows Jason Terry to fall back into his natural role. Terry saw a number of starts at the shooting guard position, but is not necessarily known as a great defender. He can now play the role he has been so great at over the years as a sixth-man that comes in and looks to shoot the ball, which should help the Celtics with their bench scoring.
With the familiarity that these Boston starters have with one another, perhaps they can get back to playing the elite defense they were once known for. If Friday night was any indication, that may be the case. Other than Tyler Hansbrough, nobody on the Pacers ever found their rhythm shooting the ball. Starters Paul George and David West were both 4-18 from the field and Lance Stephenson made one of his six attempts in 30 minutes.
The Celtics also won the turnover battle as they forced 19 turnovers and committed only 14.
Boston has been the worst rebounding team in the league this season, but finished plus two against the relatively strong-rebounding Pacers team. Jared Sullinger led the team with 10 rebounds off the bench as the Celtics had an even distribution on the glass with six players grabbing at least five rebounds. If the Celtics are going to hang with teams on the boards they will need to do just that: rebound as a team.
All in all, it becomes clear that if the Celtics to win games they are going to have to play well as a team. They have a number of good players, but lack the star-power that many contenders possess in the league today – stars that are in their prime that is. It all starts with playing strong team defense and having all five guys look to rebound the basketball. Then it takes everyone looking to execute on offense, making the extra pass, and sharing the ball. It won’t be easy, but in the end, how well this team can come together and play as a unit will determine how much longer this core group of Celtics can keep their championship dreams alive.