BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics own a 2-0 lead over the Indiana Pacers, but they were far from perfect in their two victories in Boston. They’re going to be much better over the next two games in Indiana if they want to end the series before the weekend is over.
The Celtics haven’t looked particularly great for large stretches against the Pacers. Indiana actually outplayed Boston for much of the first two games, especially on the defensive end.
The Celtics dug themselves into an 11-point hole in the first half of Game 1, before mounting a comeback in the third quarter, when the Pacers scored just 12 points. Boston led by as many as 22 in the fourth quarter, and won the game by 10 points.
In Game 2, that comeback didn’t come until the fourth quarter, when Boston erased a 12-point hole in the final frame. Kyrie Irving led the furious charge with 37 dazzling points in the game, and is averaging 28.5 points over the first two contests.
But as much as those wins were Celtics comebacks, they were just as much collapses by the offensively challenged Pacers. As well as their defense has played over the first two games, Indiana just can’t keep up with Boston offensively without Victor Oladipo. The Pacers are last among the NBA’s playoff teams in scoring over their first two games. That’s a good thing for the Celtics, who rank 15th.
Indiana’s best bet is to hope the Celtics continue to let them hang around in these upcoming games. Putting together a full 48 minutes of solid basketball was one of Boston’s many issues during their lackluster regular season. While they’ve shown signs of “flipping the switch” over the last two games, they still fall into their bad habits from time to time. The Pacers have taken advantage, only to let it slip away in the end.
The Celtics know the road to a victory is going to be much tougher over these next three days in Indiana. The message at the moment is clear: They haven’t won anything yet.
“I just think you have to play with great purpose, connectivity and toughness for 48 minutes. And really, that’s it,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Friday morning. “Easier said than done, possession to possession.”
The Celtics found themselves in a similar situation last season, up 2-0 on the Milwaukee Bucks in their first round matchup. They weren’t ready for Game 3 in Milwaukee, fell behind 27-12 after the first quarter and ended up getting stomped by Giannis Antetokounmpo and company. They lost on a last-second tip-in by Giannis in Game 4 and went back to Boston with the series tied 2-2. The home team won each game that series.
The Celtics know better than to get careless with a 2-0 series lead. Their terrible start in Game 3 last year, not to mention their slow starts in the first two games of this series, will be on their mind Friday night. The big difference between this year’s Game 3 and last year’s is Irving will be on the floor and not on the bench.
“Don’t get complacent and think that we have them figured out or anything like that,” Irving said Friday after Boston’s morning shootaround. “They’ve been up on us a few times down the stretch. They’ve had their chances to win the ball game. You just can’t take that for granted.”
In their long storied history, the Celtics have only let a 2-0 lead slip away in a best-of-seven series once; last year’s Eastern Conference finals against the Cavaliers. As frustrating as this group was to watch through most of the regular season, they seem to have the killer instinct right now that won’t allow that to happen again (it’s name is Kyrie). We’ll find out for sure Friday night.