Celtics visit the streaking Pacers

Boston Celtics (30-24) at Indiana Pacers (34-21)
Saturday, April 7
7:00 PM ET
Regular Season Game #55, Road Game #27
Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Referees: Eddie F Rush,  Kevin Fehr, Brian Forte 
This is the 4th and final meeting between these two teams.  The Pacers won one game in Boston and one in Indiana while the Celtics won one on their home court.  If somehow a tie should come into play, the Celtics need to win this game in order to split the season series and have a chance at owning the tie breaker.

Both teams are fighting for playoff position.  The Pacers are in the 3rd spot a game and a half ahead of both Atlanta and Orlando.  They are also 3.5 games ahead of the Celtics, who are in the 4th spot by virtue of leading the Atlantic division by one game over Philadelphia.  They are also a game and a half behind Orlando and Atlanta for the 5th and 6th spots and 2.5 games ahead of New York for the 8th spot.  Every game counts now and the Celtics can't afford to take a game off (or as in the case of the Bulls game, a half).

It may help that finally, the Celtics are the team with a day off and the Pacers are the team that played a tough game the night before.  The Thunder were be in town on Friday night and gave the Pacers a tough game. The Pacers built a big lead, but the Thunder came back and the Pacers' starters had to play hard to the very end to get the win.  Hopefully the Celtics will come in with more energy and will be the team with energy at the end instead of running out of steam and losing in the last few minutes.

Doc brought Ray Allen off the bench and started Avery Bradley, who had played so well in the starting lineup in Ray's absence.  Doc said this morning that he plans to start Avery once again in this game.   He will have his hands full guarding the 6'8" Paul George.     I have to tell you it feels very weird to list Ray Allen with the reserves.

Both teams are 7-3 in their last 10 games.  The Celtics have lost 2 in a row while the Pacers have won their last 4.  The Celtics are 11-15 on the road while the Pacers are 18-7 at home.  This won't be an easy game.  The Celtics can't afford an effort for half a game and then sit back and coast the other half.  They must put out a full game effort and be the team that wants it more.
Probable Starting Matchups
Rajon Rondo  vs  Darren Collison  

Shooting Guard
Avery Bradley   vs  Paul George  

Small Forward
Paul Pierce  vs  Danny Granger  

Power Forward
Brandon Bass  vs  David West

Kevin Garnett  vs  Roy Hibbert  

Celtics Reserves
Marquis Daniels
Ryan Hollins
E'Twaun Moore
JaJuan Johnson
Ray Allen
Sasha Pavlovic
Greg Stiemsma
Keyon Dooling

Mickael Pietrus (concussion) out
Jermaine O'Neal (wrist)  out  

Pacers Reserves
Tyler Hansbrough
George Hill
Louis Amundson
Dahntay Jones
AJ Price
Jeff Pendergraph
Lance Stephenson
George Hill
Kyrylo Fesenko


Key Matchups
Paul Pierce vs Danny Granger
Danny Granger is a tough player who can hit from outside as well as take the ball to the basket. He always seems to play extra hard against the Celtics. Both Pierce and Granger have struggled in the series so far with Pierce shooting 34.6% and Granger shooting 36.7% in the 3 games.  That may be due to the defense played by both of these players.   Paul Pierce has been playing very well over the last month as evidenced by his selection as player of the month but he struggled in the second half of the Bulls game, shooting just 1-8 for 5 points in the half.  Granger is averaging 26.3 points in the Pacers' 4 game win streak and is coming off a 26 point game against the Thunder (scoring 13 of those 26 points in the 4th quarter).  It's going to be a tough matchup for Pierce with Granger playing so well but he has to be up to the task of playing tough defense along with being aggressive on the offensive end. 

Rajon Rondo vs Darren Collison
As Rondo goes, so go the Celtics.    When Rondo is aggressive, he makes the Celtics very tough to beat.  Rondo should have a height and experience advantage over Collison and hopefully that will translate into a big game for him.  He has 15 games with double digit assists but Indiana is 4th in the league, allowing their opponents only 19 assists per game.  The Celtics, however are first, allowing an even stingier 18.7 assists per game.  Rondo has to be very careful with his passes and has to play smart and not let the string of double digit assists get into his head and alter his play. 

Honorable Mention
Kevin Garnett vs Roy Hibbert
Hibbert is becoming one of the better centers in the league.  He is listed at 7'2" and his length bothers other centers.  He is coming off a 21 point 12 rebound game against the Thunder and if Perk struggled to stop him, Garnett will more than likely have his hands full with him.      

Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics defense has been up and down and they have clamped down in spurts.  The Celtics need to work harder on team defense.   They have stretches like the first half of the Bulls game or the third quarter in the Spurs game or the entire Heat game where they lock down the opponent and then there are stretches like the 3rd quarter of the Bulls game or the first half of the Spurs game where they allow easy baskets both inside and out.  They have to be more consistent and limit the other team's ability to score.  They won't win in a shoot out and must get stops consistently.  

Rebound -  Winning the rebounding battle prevents second chance points  and tip ins for the Pacers as well as limits fast break opportunities.   So much of rebounding is effort and desire.  The Celtics must play like they want it more and put out the effort to go get the rebounds.   When the Celtics put out the effort on the boards, it often translates to other areas of the game as well.   They held their own in the first half against the Bulls and had an 11 point lead.  They allowed the Bulls to out-rebound them in the second half and lost the game.  They can get rebounds when they really put out the effort.  

Offense -  There have been times when the Celtics' ball movement is a joy to behold and others when they make sloppy passes and just can't seem to get anything going.  They have to continue to move the ball and find the open man.   There area also times when the ball movement stops and there is too much hero ball.  Against the Bulls in the first half, they pushed the ball and got into their offense quickly and got great shots.  In the second half, they walked the ball up and slowed down the ball movement and the offense just got stagnant.  They have to push the ball, make the extra pass and run the offense.

Be Aggressive
-  When the Celtics are aggressive in going to the basket, going after loose balls, pushing the ball up the court quickly, and going after rebounds, they are really tough.   But when they are passive and settle for jumpers, let the other team beat them to loose balls, and rebounds, they will lose every time.  They have been aggressive in spurts and then they stop and either give up big leads or allow the other team to build a big lead.  They have to be aggressive for 48 minutes.

Doc's Message and Back to Back
Doc really blasted the Celtics for their effort and toughness after their loss to the Bulls.  How they receive his message will be key here.  Will they take it to heart and come out with a better effort?  Or, will they pout and come out with a "criminal effort" once again?  Also, the Pacers play the Thunder the night before and so hopefully that will be a factor for them.