BOSTON Once again the Boston Celtics were short-handed, and once again it didn't really matter as Boston won its fourth straight with a 94-87 win over the Indiana Pacers. This was one of those games that C's coach Doc Rivers knew would be difficult to win after he saw it on the schedule. Playing a nationally televised game at Orlando on Thursday night, only to return home in the wee hours of the morning to host a young, athletic Indiana Pacers team.
"Oh, it was a trap game," Rivers said. "Make no mistake about it."
The thing is, somebody forgot to tell his players that the scheduling gods had lined this one up as one the C's were supposed to lose.
Come to think of it, Friday's win was just another night when the Celtics defied the odds stacked against them, to emerge victorious.
To win a game like this, a number of things have to break right.
With that said, we'll look at some of the factors identified prior to the game, that worked out in the Celtics' favor.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Dead legs have to be a huge concern for the Celtics tonight. The best indicator of this is usually in how a team shoots from the field. Jumpers don't have the same lift, and lay-ups tend to roll in and out more often. That becomes an even bigger deal tonight against an Indiana team that's ranked No. 1 in the NBA in field goal percentage defense (41.2 percent).
WHAT WE SAW: Shooting the ball was not an issue for the Celtics, which was unexpected. Older teams coming home on the back end of a back-to-back set of games, aren't supposed to shoot better than 45 percent from the field. But the C's continue to defy conventional thinking with their penchant for winning games despite being without key players. "It was one of those games that you know mentally you're drained," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "It was a big win, an emotional win last night (at Orlando)." But it would not have been as sweet if they couldn't come home and handle business. "I'm proud with the way we stepped u tonight and really got the job done," Pierce said.
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Paul Pierce vs Danny Granger. It's obvious that Pierce is feeling like his old self - and not just old - lately. During the C's three-game winning streak, Pierce has averaged 25.7 points, nine assists and 6.3 rebounds in addition to playing solid defense. "I am starting to get my legs back. I am playing better basketball," Pierce said. Granger has also picked his game up recently, averaging 19.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in Indiana's last three games.
WHAT WE SAW: You can add Granger to the growing list of talented players that are being outplayed by Pierce right now. While there are certainly a number of players who are having a better overall season than Pierce, he has been easily one of the league's top players during the Celtics' four-game winning streak. Why? Because he's hurting teams in so many ways. Scoring, rebounding, passing, defense you name it, and Pierce is bringing it to the floor. He led all scorers with 28 points, along with 10 rebounds and eight assists."Ya know that's my role on the team, to just continue to be aggressive, trying to get to the basket, mix it up with the outsideinside play, make plays and that's it," Pierce said. As for Granger, he had 21 points and six rebounds.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Roy Hibbert is arguably the second-best center in the East behind Dwight Howard, but poses a different - and in some ways, tougher - matchup problem. Unlike Howard who relies heavily on his strength and athleticism, Hibbert's length is what will give the Celtics problems. Don't be surprised that if Jermaine O'Neal (left knee) can't play, C's Doc Rivers goes with rookie Greg Stiemsma as the starting center instead of having Brandon Bass start at power forward and sliding Kevin Garnett over to defend Hibbert. To the C's credit, they made things tough for Hibbert offensively in both games this season. In each of the two games this season, the 7-foot-2 center shot 5-for-15 from the field.
WHAT WE SAW: Although a right ankle injury certainly slowed Hibbert down some, he really wasn't that effective even prior to the injury. He finished with 11 points and seven rebounds while shooting 5-for-13 from the field. Garnett started at center again, and once again turned in a defensive gem of a performance. Boston also got strong play from Chris Wilcox, who had a season-high 14 points off the Celtics bench along with grabbing six rebounds. Dealing with Hibbert was a major point of emphasis for Wilcox when he was on the floor. "We just had to control Hibbert on the block and contest all the shots and make it hard for them and them make other guys scorers," Wilcox said.
STAT TO TRACK: If the Celtics are to have a real shot at winning tonight, they have to keep the Pacers off the offensive boards. Indiana outscored the C's by 14 points in each of the two previous matchups. The C's may catch a break of sorts with Indiana's Jeff Foster (back) expected to not play. Also, Indiana comes into tonight's game having been outscored each of the last three games in second-chance points, something that had not occurred at any point prior.
WHAT WE SAW: This was the one area that Boston had to find a way to at least be competitive in to have any shot at success. They were more than that. Boston not only kept Indiana from dominating the offensive boards, but they actually won the offensive boards battle which led to 14 second-chance points compared to just six for the Pacers.