BOSTON (CBS) – Wednesday looks to be a playoff preview when the Celtics pay a visit to the Indiana Pacers, though Boston would certainly like to improve their post-season seeding between now and when the playoffs begin in mid-April.
The Celtics will look to build off Tuesday night’s 109-101 win over the Philadelphia 76ers as they go for their fourth straight win on Wednesday night. But it will take a much better all-around effort against the Pacers, who currently sit in the two-spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics did more than their fair share of good in Tuesday night’s win over a struggling 76ers team. It’s hard to ever argue against 41 points off the Boston bench and, even more impressive, 38 points in the paint. But despite those numbers, the Celtics also made things interesting thanks to 22 team turnovers that the 76ers turned into 30 points. It’s likely an opportunistic team like the Pacers would have done a little more with those Celtics mistakes.
Stats: Celtics-Pacers Preview
But aside from the turnovers, the Celtics offense made it look easy in Philly. Paul Pierce had the all-around night that’s expected from him since Rajon Rondo went down, scoring 18 points to go with 11 rebounds and seven assists, and Avery Bradley led the way with 22 points, looking more like an offensive power than the defensive-minded guard everyone salivates over. But points will be a lot harder to come by in Indiana, and those open jumpers Bradley knocked down with ease likely won’t be available for him on Wednesday. The Pacers currently rank second in the NBA in terms of defense, allowing just 89.6 points per game, and opponents are shooting a meager 42-percent from the floor and 32-percent from 3-point range against Indy – both tops in the league.
The Celtics handled the Pacers 94-75 at the TD Garden two months ago, though they did so with Rondo still in the lineup. A lot has changed since that matchup — from Rondo’s injury to Jeff Green’s emergence off the bench to Bradley’s recent scoring touch — but now they’ll have to bring their current string of success to a hostile Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Pacers are 25-6 this season.
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The Celtics should expect a better showing from Pacers forward David West as well, who had just 10 points when the two met up back in January. West scored a season-high 31 points as the Pacers handled the Bulls 97-92 on Sunday, and is averaging 24 points on 58-percent shooting over his last four games. Now he’ll face a Boston team that sends out smaller and quicker lineups, and could be primed for a big evening on the score sheet – both in points and rebounds.
While it’s no surprise the Celtics rank near the bottom of the NBA in rebounding, the Pacers are among the best when it comes to cleaning the glass — pulling down a league-leading 45.7 rebounds per game. This means there is a chance that Doc Rivers could opt to go big more than small on Wednesday, matching up with a dominant Indy frontcourt that features West and center Roy Hibbert. Newly signed Celtics D.J. White and Shavlik Randolph may make their Boston debuts in hopes of providing more size, even if in small spurts, giving the C’s another body to bang down low.
Containing West, along with cleaning things up in the turnover department, will go a long way for the Celtics on Wednesday as they look to continue to improve their playoff seeding. Still sitting at the seventh seed, Boston trails the Bulls by just a game-and-a-half for the fourth spot in the East, a spot that seemed unreachable just a month ago.
The Celtics will be looking for their fourth straight win over the Pacers and fourth straight overall on Wednesday, but should expect a playoff-like feel from the opening tip. Beating the Pacers is no easy task, but Wednesday night – the second half of a back-to-back – is just the test the Celtics need as they look to build on, and improve, their playoff resume.