Celtics

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Pacers?

2020 NBA Restart: How would Celtics fare in playoff series vs. Pacers?

The Pacers might have been an unsavory first-round matchup for any of the East’s top seeds. Then Victor Oladipo surprisingly opted out of the restart in early July and, suddenly, a matchup with the Pacers seemed far less daunting.

But then a report Monday indicated that there was “growing belief” that Oladipo could attempt to play in the NBA restart after engaging in Indiana’s early practices inside the bubble.

A healthy Oladipo makes a potential Celtics-Pacers matchup far more intriguing and his status is noteworthy because, entering the restart, the Pacers currently project as Boston’s most likely first-round opponent (a 43.7 percent chance, per ESPN’s Basketball Power Index).

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If everyone is healthy, the Celtics would still be heavy favorites against Indiana. It’s a little bit more of a toss up if Oladipo is healthy and Kemba Walker’s knee is an issue.

But without Oladipo, Indiana would still have talent, especially if Malcolm Brogdon can get back to full health, especially after contracting COVID-19 during the break. A Pacers team that ranked 17th in offensive rating and 13th in net rating before the season paused remains a vulnerable foe, especially without Oladipo’s offensive talents.

For Indiana, still stung by watching Paul George shuffle off to LA, Oladipo’s initial decision leaves the team pondering an uncertain future, particularly with Oladipo set to be a free agent after the 2020-2021 season.

The Pacers split two meetings with Boston this season, with Brogdon keying a December victory while Oladipo was still rehabbing. The Celtics, though, withstood Oladipo’s best performance of his brief comeback while emerging with a win in Indiana right before the season paused in early March.

The Pacers are not devoid of talent, leaning heavy on a frontcourt of first-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. But the absence of Oladipo would put pressure on players like T.J. Warren and Brogdon to shoulder the offensive burden. Suddenly it feels a lot like last year’s playoff team that Boston swept out of the playoffs in the opening round.

The Pacers had the seventh best defense in the league before the break, but they simply don’t have the offensive firepower to hang with the East’s top dogs in a seven-game series. Coach Nate McMillan did a commendable job keeping his team competitive, especially without Oladipo and Brogdon. But the team simply doesn’t have the horses to truly contend in the restart without Oladipo.

The bigger question for Indiana is what the future looks like and, after he opted out to the restart, it’s fair to wonder if Oladipo is eager to be in Indiana deep into the future.

PREDICTIONS FOR CELTICS-PACERS PLAYOFF SERIES

Chris Forsberg: It’s hard to see how this wouldn’t be a 2019 replay if the Celtics and Pacers meet up in Round 1. The Oladipo-less Pacers simply don’t have the top-end talent to hang with with the East elite. Indiana’s size has rarely bothered Boston.

The Pacers are the most agreeable foe for the East’s No. 3 seed and the only question would be whether Indiana could steal a game in a series. Boston might even get some added motivation in a matchup given the Indiana connections for players like Gordon Hayward, Romeo Langford, and Carsen Edwards. 

Prediction: Celtics in 4 games (If Oladipo plays, let's say Celtics in 5.)

A. Sherrod Blakely: Indiana's style of play will make this a hard-fought series. With or without Victor Oladipo (knee) who is reportedly on the fence about rejoining the Pacers in the NBA's Orlando, Fla., bubble, Boston's edge in overall talent will be too much for the scrappy Pacers to overcome. 

Prediciton: Celtics in 6 games

DJ Bean: The Pacers really could have been a dark horse in the East, but with no Oladipo, I can safely say a Celtics-Pacers series would be the least scared I've ever been in my life. C's would sweep them again. 

Prediction: Celtics in 4 games

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can C's or Raptors burst Bucks' bubble in East? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Celtics Talk Podcast: If 76ers pull off upset, who will be their X-factor?

Celtics Talk Podcast: If 76ers pull off upset, who will be their X-factor?

The Boston Celtics will begin their road to Banner 18 on Monday when they take on the Philadelphia 76ers in the Orlando bubble.

A few months ago, a C's-Sixers playoff series likely would have been considered a toss-up. But with Ben Simmons (knee) out for the season and Philadelphia's defense struggling mightily in Florida, Boston enters the first round as the heavy favorite.

It still won't be a cakewalk for the Celtics, however. They'll still have to find a way to limit Sixers star Joel Embiid, and they'll need All-Star point guard Kemba Walker to be himself after spending the seeding round on a minutes restriction.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which begins Monday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

If the 76ers do find a way to pull off the upset, who will be their X-factor? Chris Forsberg, A. Sherrod Blakely, and Kyle Draper discuss with Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Enquirer on a brand new episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast.

Celtics Talk Podcast: The Al Horford conundrum and why Sixers won’t last long vs. Celtics | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"I think it depends on Tobias Harris right about now," Pompey said. "I think Tobias Harris has to be the man. Right now, Tobias Harris is the highest-paid Sixer. He's a 'fringe All-Star.' And I think he tends to play better when Ben [Simmons] is not around, or Joel. When one of the two are missing, he plays well because he gets more touches. I think Tobias has to take charge and be that guy for them to win.

"Also, secondly, I think Josh Richardson has to play great. Those two guys play well, the Sixers may win a couple of games. I don't see them winning the series at all, but Tobias has to play well for them to steal this thing."

The crew also discusses whether we may be underestimating the 76ers, how C's stack up with the rest of the East, who will fill the void for Simmons, and much more.

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast on your favorite podcast app or watch it on YouTube below.

Celtics-76ers Preview: Can Kemba Walker break out of his Philly slump?

Celtics-76ers Preview: Can Kemba Walker break out of his Philly slump?

Twenty-one months ago, Kemba Walker dropped a career high 60 points on the Philadelphia 76ers, so it would be a bit shortsighted to suggest that Walker has any sort of a Philly problem.

But here’s the reality from Walker’s first season in Boston: In three games against the Sixers, Walker shot a mere 37.3 percent overall. He averaged 22.3 points but on 19.7 shots per game. The Celtics owned a team-worst net rating of minus-17.7 during Walker’s 103 minutes of floor time against Philadelphia, a span in which the Celtics were outscored by a total of 34 points. Boston went 0-3 in those games.

While Walker’s performance during seeding games eased concerns about the balky left knee that hindered him before the 2019-20 season paused, one of the big questions for Boston entering a first-round series against the 76ers is whether Walker can play to his All-Star standards and spearhead Boston’s offense against a team that often flustered the Celtics with its size and length this season.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-76ers, which begins Monday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Walker is vital to Boston’s offensive success. The Celtics posted a team-best offensive rating of 115.2 this season when Walker was on the court and that dipped to 109.4 when he was on the bench.

As much as Walker passed the eyeball test inside the bubble, looking spry and swift, the team’s starters didn’t put up their typically glossy offensive numbers. Given the way the Sixers can make things difficult on the defensive end, it’s crucial that Walker has that first unit firing on all cylinders in the postseason.

That starts with Walker being able to create his own offense.

The 76ers will deploy some of their bigger guards against Walker, including 6-foot-5 Josh Richardson, who had nearly three times as many matchup minutes against Walker as the now-sidelined Ben Simmons did during the regular season. Walker can also expect a healthy dose of rookie reserve Matisse Thybulle, another 6-foot-5 wing who made things particularly difficult on him.

The Richardson-Thybulle combo accounted for a total of 21 minutes of matchup time over three games and limited Walker to 27 points on 34.7 percent shooting (8 of 23 overall) including just 28.6 percent (4 of 14) beyond the 3-point arc, per the NBA’s matchup tracking. What’s more, Walker had more turnovers (five) than assists (four) against those defenders. Thybulle also blocked Walker's shot four times and his length can really disrupt the smaller guard out past the 3-point line.

 

The Sixers’ size simply makes everything a little bit more difficult for Walker. They can fight over screens and still contest pull-up jumper and they can close out to the 3-point line with a long arm extended as he rises. Walker made just 9 of 28 above-the-break 3-pointers against Philadelphia, a spot where he shot 38.8 percent against all other teams.

But where the Sixers can really make things tough on Walker is when he tries to score near the basket. Walker connected on just 2 of 8 shots in the restricted area this season against Philadelphia, and went 3 of 9 from inside the paint. Whether it’s Joel Embiid or Al Horford, or a combination of both, the Sixers will scramble to help whenever Walker attacks off the pick-and-roll. 

 

So, what does Walker need to do to thrive against the Sixers’ size? Rewinding to that 60-point outburst in November 2018 offers some clues, especially considering he had almost the same number of field goals that night (21) as he did this entire season against Philly (22). 

Even with Jimmy Butler hounding him for much of the night, Walker was able to attack the basket and finish through contact. He was 9 of 13 at the rim, often charging off screens beyond the 3-point arc and getting to the rim before Embiid could even arrive with help. He didn’t get rattled when some early layups didn’t fall and used body control to muscle home tough finishes. He pulled up in the mid-range when Embiid sank towards the hoop.

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If the Sixers are going to have success in this series, they’re going to have to muddy up the game. They’re going to have to turn them into rock fights. They’re going to have to get physical and try to make Boston uncomfortable.

The Celtics have to counter with ball movement and not settle for perimeter looks. It’s on Walker to keep attacking in the pick-and-roll and try to spray the ball through the labyrinth of long arms to get teammates quality looks.

If Walker has Boston’s offense clicking, it’s going to put an exceptional amount of pressure on the Sixers to match that offensive output, something that won’t be easy with their lack of shooting and the absence of Simmons.

So much of the Celtics’ offense is predicated on Walker’s play. It eases the burden on Jayson Tatum and creates even more opportunities for Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward. But it starts with Walker.

He doesn’t need to have monster nights like that 60-point outburst in 2018 (heck, the Hornets lost that game) but he needs to play with the same confidence and continually put pressure on the Sixers’ defense.