BOSTON – The foundation of this Celtics team lies in its defense, which finds itself being challenged in some form on a nightly basis.
The Indiana Pacers are the latest high-powered offense Boston will be tested by tonight.
Now, when folks think of high-scoring NBA teams, the Pacers (30-25) aren’t exactly one of the first that comes to mind.
But as their opponents this season will attest, the Pacers can get buckets.
Their 106.7 points per game ranks 12th in the NBA, but more telling is the efficiency by which they generate points.
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Indiana generates 108.2 points per 100 possessions, which makes them the sixth-most efficient offense in the NBA, aided by the Pacers shooting 48.2 percent from the field.
Boston ranks among the league leaders in several defensive categories. But their success lies in their approach which they believe has to be established sooner than we’ve seen of late.
“We gotta come out with some fight,” Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “We gotta come out and hold our ground.”
Here are five under-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on as the Celtics host the Indiana Pacers tonight:
JAYSON TATUM IN THE FOURTH
Regardless of whether he’s scoring or not, good things tend to happen to the Boston Celtics when Jayson Tatum is in the game during the fourth quarter. The 6-foot-8 rookie has a plus/minus in the fourth quarter of +160 which leads all NBA players. The nearest player to him is Houston’s Chris Paul (+112) who is followed by Celtic guard Terry Rozier (+107).
BOSTON ON SECOND NIGHT OF BACK TO BACK
Fatigue is always a concern when talking about the second game of a back-to-back. For the Celtics, this has often been a time to flourish. They come into tonight’s game against the Pacers with a 6-3 record on the second night of a back-to-back set of games.
Boston will look to extend its streak of getting to the line more than its opponent to three games in a row tonight. Prior to that, Boston’s opponents got to the line more in 23 of the previous 28 games. Among those teams was the Pacers who were 30-for-38 from the line when Boston squeaked out a 112-111 road win. In that game, Boston was just 8-for-14 from the line. It was the first time since 2009 that Boston won a game after having an opponent make 22 or more free throws than they did.
The sample size for how Boston’s big-man tandem of Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe will work is as small as you can get – one game. But it is worth keeping tabs on going forward. Boston added Monroe in part because of his playmaking skills and ability to score around the basket which will allow Boston to rest Al Horford and Kyrie Irving at the same time and not necessarily have to stagger their minutes. But Baynes gives Boston an impact defensive presence in the paint, a big man who thrives defensively on being in the right spot at the right time. Boston has the league’s best defense and he’s a big part of that, evident by his defensive rating being a league-best 95.8. In their first game together, Baynes got the start and finished with two points, five rebounds and a defensive rating of 91.7 and an offensive rating of 114.3 in 14 minutes. Monroe came off the bench and scored five points to go with six rebounds, two assists, and two steals with a defensive rating of 87.1 and an offensive rating of 106.4 in 20 minutes.
He continues to expand his game to the point where his impact is significant at both ends of the floor for Boston. His offense of late has become quite reliable with him hitting double figures scoring in five straight games, something he had not done since November. Against Washington, he had 18 points in addition to defending Bradley Beal who tallied 18 points but did so on 7-for-27 shooting.