The Boston Celtics kick off their 2019 playoff run against the Indiana Pacers. Here we break down how the Celtics can defend the Pacers.
The 2018-19 regular season was nothing short of a massive headache for Celtics fans everywhere. Expectations were sky high coming into the season, and all year this team proved to be nothing like any group Brad Stevens has coached during his tenure as head coach. They’re unpredictable, they don’t play with consistent effort, and haven’t looked like the championship team they’re capable of becoming.
That last part was the story of the regular season and the key to Boston’s playoff run, and perhaps the future of the franchise. Can they become the team they’re capable of?
They’ll have to start with figuring out the Indiana Pacers, a team who doesn’t have nearly as much talent as the Celtics, but make up for it by playing hard for a full 48 minutes. Now, let’s break down the matchup to see how the C’s can defend Indiana and if there are any areas they need to be worried about.
A methodical offense
The Pacers are one of the slowest offenses in the NBA, ranking 25th in the league in pace of play. They’re at their best when they move the ball and use screens to generate open looks. Against the Celtics, the Pacers tend to attack Kyrie Irving in the post, using off-ball screens to catch the defense off-guard if they’re worried about Irving struggling to defend his man.
Here, Indiana does exactly that. They post Irving with Wesley Matthews, and while Jayson Tatum considers helping Kyrie, Domantas Sabonis sets a screen to free sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic. The Pacers are ninth in the NBA in passes made and eighth in assists per game, rounding out as the 18th best offense in the league.
The Celtics’ defense wasn’t as good as it was last year, but I’d attribute that to untimely injuries to Al Horford and Aron Baynes than anything else. Effort certainly had something to do with it, so Boston will have to make sure they’re focused against this Pacers offense. It isn’t very potent, but they make up for it with persistence.
A major reason why the Pacers aren’t a great offensive team is their lack of shot creators. Victor Oladipo went down in late January with a season-ending knee injury. Since then, the Pacers are 21st in the NBA in offensive rating.
Bogdanovic has stepped it up with his scoring to keep Indiana afloat, but the bottom line is they don’t really have a player who can get a good shot on their own. In a playoff setting, that spells trouble, especially against a switching defense like the Celtics.
In their most recent meeting, the Celtics took full advantage of switching off of screens. In the entire video below, Boston consistently makes Indiana’s offense uncomfortable by forcing them to create on their own.
This will be crucial for the Celtics in this series. If they can keep the Pacers out of rhythm, then that’s all she wrote, folks. The Pacers simply do not have the talent to generate offense against a solid, switching defense.
Areas of concern
This will be the same concern for any series the Celtics play with Kyrie Irving, and it’s important Irving plays solid defense when the Pacers attack him in switches. With the way the Celtics defense should stifle the Pacers offense with switching and taking away their offensive sets, Indiana’s only option may be to go after Irving and work from there.
It’s Irving’s responsibility to play solid defense so his teammates won’t have to worry about helping out. That’s exactly what happened in the first clip when Bogdanovic was freed for a three.
If the Pacers can’t attack Irving with a ton of success, I don’t see any other option for them other than going scorched earth from three-point land. The Pacers are a top-five team in three-point percentage, so we’ll see how that shakes out for them.
Defending the Pacers won’t be an easy task. They’re still a playoff team and the Celtics won’t have Marcus Smart. The point is, Boston has a lot of answers for Indiana’s offense and I’m not sure the Pacers can say the same for the C’s defense.