Celtics

Celtics-Pistons preview: Could be a second-half showdown

Celtics-Pistons preview: Could be a second-half showdown

BOSTON – Depending on how you want to look at it, the Boston Celtics have been a team that cruises in the first half and crushes opponents in the second, or one who plays at its best when the game matters most.

Regardless, Boston (18-3) has been a better team in the second half of games this season.

Keeping along those lines won’t be easy tonight when they host a Detroit Pistons team that has played well, particularly in the second half of games … just like Boston.

In Boston’s 108-98 win over Indiana on Saturday, the Celtics were down 54-45 at the half only to bounce back with a dominant third quarter by outscoring the Pacers 37-16.

“We were kind of moving in mud there for two and a half quarters,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens following the win over Indiana. “Some shots went our way, which was good. We were fortunate to pull it out because we weren’t great the first two and a half quarters. To our guys credit, they kind of stuck with it and pulled together.”

That has been among the many strengths of this Celtics team, one that ranks among the league leaders in several categories in the second half of games.

Offensively, the Celtics are draining 5.9 three-pointers in the second half which ranks seventh in the NBA. In addition, they are shooting 39.2 percent (4th) from 3-point range as well as 13.7 free throw attempts (6th) which speaks to how in the second half of games, Boston has found success not only from deep but also do a good job of attacking defenses and getting to the free throw line which has been critical to them having a second-half offensive rating of 112.2 which ranks second in the league.

Defensively, the Celtics have been strong in the third and fourth quarters as well.

Their defensive rating is 95.6 which is tops in the NBA. They have also been extremely stingy when it comes to giving up points off turnovers (6.0, tops in the NBA), second-chance points (5.1, 3rd in the NBA) and fast-break points (3.2, 3rd).

But in the Pistons (12-7), owners of the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics will face a team which has been strong defensively in the second half of games this season.

Detroit (12-7) has a defensive rating (100.5) in the second half of games which ranks seventh in the NBA. The Pistons also rank in the top 10 in fewest points allowed off turnovers (7.8, 10th); second-chance points (4.9, 2nd) and points in the paint (19.7, 7th) in the second half.

While Detroit’s second-half defense is legit, you can bet the Celtics won’t be giving it too much thought heading into tonight’s game.

More than anything else, they will focus on what they need to do to extend their new winning streak to three in a row even if that means rallying from behind which is something that we’ve seen thus far this season, they’re really good at.

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Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

While the Boston Celtics remain tops in the NBA in defensive efficiency with a rating of 100.7, there’s no escaping the reality that they have had some slippage lately which is why the Celtics are 3-3 in their last six games.

Plugging the team’s defensive leaks won’t get any easier tonight against an Indiana Pacers team that has been among the better offensive clubs in the league this season.

The Pacers come into tonight’s game averaging 108.2 points which ranks seventh in the NBA.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens attributes some of the Celtics’ struggles recently to a lack of consistent effort, a sentiment that’s shared among his players.

“We definitely need to play with better effort more consistently,” Boston’s Semi Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “There’s really no excuse for it. We know we have to better, going forward.”

Especially against a Pacers team that’s playing with a chip on its shoulder this season.

Predicted by many to be among the worst teams in the East after trading away Paul George in July for Victor Oladipo and Domantis Sabonis, Indiana (17-13) comes into tonight’s game in a tie for the fourth-best record in the East.

Boston beat the Pacers 108-98 earlier this season, but Indiana was without Oladipo who was out with a bruised right knee.

His availability tonight and his team-leading 24.4 points per game, will certainly have an impact on tonight’s outcome.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between Boston and Indiana.

INDY POINTS OFF TURNOVERS

Boston’s transition defense which has been up and down lately, will be challenged early and often by an Indiana team that likes to get out and run especially off of turnovers. They come into tonight’s game averaging 19.0 points off turnovers which ranks fourth in the NBA. Meanwhile, Boston is giving up 14.3 points off turnovers this season which is second in the league. Boston has given up 13.3 points off turnovers in the last six games, but it ranks just ninth in the league in that span.

SABONIS’ LOVE FOR THE CELTICS

Domantas Sabonis’ father Arvydas, spent his entire NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers. But according to Domantas, his father was a huge fan of the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird.

Oh, there’s more.

“His favorite color is green, so he loves it even more,” Domantis said shortly after his workout for the Celtics in 2016. “Just everything about the team, the tradition, the winning … everything.”

ARON BAYNES

Teams with physical, smack-first, ask-questions-later-type centers, have given the Pacers problems this season; specifically, Andre Drummond of Detroit and Steven Adams of Oklahoma City, both of whom gave the Pacers major fits while each finishing with a double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds. Baynes has provided a much-needed presence around the rim for the Celtics, and has a defensive rating of 94.9 which is tops among all NBA players averaging 15 or more minutes played per game.

INDY’S PULL-UP GAME

There really isn’t any time when the Celtics can relax defensively against a Pacers team that has shown itself to have a diverse set of skills when it comes to scoring. For example, when it comes to pull-up shooting, they rank among the league’s best in several categories. According to NBA.com/stats, they are shooting a league-best 42.8 percent on pull-up shots which generates 21.9 points per game which ranks fourth in the league.

JAYSON TATUM

The Celtics have won three of their last five games, with each win followed by a loss in that span. There are lots of factors, but one that jumps out is the scoring of Jayson Tatum. In the two losses, he scored four and seven points, respectively. But in the three wins, the 19-year-old reached double figures in each game, scoring at least 11 points. For the season, he’s averaging 14.4 points while shooting 53.9 percent on 3’s and 53 percent from the field when the Celtics win. In losses, his scoring drops to 11.6 points per game while shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 40.9 percent on 3’s.

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pacers in Indiana. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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