Given this season’s compressed nature, Boston and Indiana's electric games feel like they happened years ago. In their first matchup last December, the Pacers pulled 19 points, 10 boards, and this furious, get-off-me game-winner from Domantas Sabonis.
Domantas Sabonis. Game winner. Pacers beat the Celtics 108-107. pic.twitter.com/3jTqmV523j— Tony East (@TEastNBA) December 28, 2020
Indiana had a chance to take control of the series, holding an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter of the second matchup, two days later. But the Celtics rallied to outscore the Pacers, 33-17, and come away with only their second win of the season.
Two months later, both teams have gone through their respective roller-coasters and eventually landed in the middle of the Eastern Conference. The Celtics have lost eight of their last 12 games, while Indiana have been better lately, but only won four of their last 10.
For Boston, the challenge has mainly come from not having their complete starting five. They started with Kemba Walker recovering from a knee surgery. When he came back, Marcus Smart injured his calf and won't be back until after the All-Star break.
While Smart isn't an All-Star like Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, he’s a critical piece for Boston's defense while also helping stabilize their offense with his underrated playmaking. It would have been nice to have Smart take on some of the ball handling duties to ease Walker into a larger role. Instead, the Celtics have had to rely on Walker for longer stretches of the game, leading to a dip in efficiency and indecision in critical late game possessions.
The Pacers, on the other hand, have been more unlucky with injuries. They traded Victor Oladipo for Caris LeVert, who unfortunately is going to miss the rest of the regular season to recover from a surgery to treat his kidney cancer. Add Bubble superstar TJ Warren's foot injury earlier in the year to see how barren Indiana's options are on the perimeter.
Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Myles Turner have carried the team, but it's been apparent that Indiana needs more scoring options as the Holiday brothers and Jeremy Lamb have been inconsistent so far.
Watch out for Boston's All-Star duo of Tatum and Brown having their way against Indiana's wings, and for Sabonis dominating the Celtics’ trio of centers. If their first two games are any indication, this should be a tight match between teams desperately looking for momentum.