BOSTON – Near the end of their 16-game winning streak, there were noticeable areas of slippage that you knew would catch up with the Celtics sooner or later.
Near the top of that list was ball movement, something this team did as well as any team in their run to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
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This team doesn’t move the ball like last season's team, in part because Boston has a deeper stable of talented scorers who can score in isolation.
Still, ball movement has to become contagious once again and it certainly was in the first quarter of the 118-103 win over Orlando.
Headlining the renewed emphasis on sharing the ball from one side of the floor to the other was Al Horford, who tallied seven of his career-high-tying 10 assists in the first quarter.
“The guys were knocking down the shots,” Horford said. “Early in the game, we wanted to play with a little more pace. I was being aggressively, but Orlando helped [defensively] and I was able to find guys and they were able to knock shots down.”
It was the kind of effort that far too often gets overlooked when talking about what Horford brings to the table.
“Probably the most underrated guy in the league,” said Orlando coach Frank Vogel.
Here are five below-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on as Boston hits the road tonight to face the Indiana Pacers:
It’s always a good time for Brad Stevens to return to Indiana, where he grew up and coached at nearby Butler. And lately, things have been good for the Celtics as well on the road against the Pacers. Boston won both road games against the Pacers last season, a major improvement under Stevens, who had previously lost five of his first six at Indiana.
KEEPING PACE WITH THE PACERS
The Celtics made a conscious effort to start Friday against Orlando playing with a better pace. For the season, Boston’s pace of 98.76 ranks 22nd in the NBA. But in the first half of Friday’s win over Orlando, Boston had a pace of 104.68 which would rank fifth in the NBA if it were their season average. Meanwhile, the Pacers have played with a good pace all season. They come into tonight’s game with a pace of 101.41 which ranks eighth in the NBA.
WIN THE BOARDS
You always hear about how important it is to win the rebounding battle. But for Boston and Indiana, it literally means winning tonight. The Celtics come in with a spotless 14-0 record when they out-rebound an opponent. Indiana? They come in with a 7-0 record when they corral more boards than their opponent. The only other undefeated team when it comes to winning the rebounding category is the Milwaukee Bucks (3-0).
The Cleveland Cavaliers seem to have figured out whatever they needed to right themselves as evidenced by their league-best seven-game winning streak. Right behind them? That would be the Pacers, who are currently riding a five-game winning streak.
Winning is on the rise for Kyrie Irving since he came to Boston, and the same can be said for his shooting. On the heels of a 30-point, 9-for-15 shooting night against Orlando, Irving is now shooting a career-best 47.6 percent from the field which is slightly up from last season in Cleveland when he connected on 47.3 percent of his shots. In the month of November, he’s shooting 49.8 percent from the field while averaging 23.6 points per game.