Opponent: Boston Celtics
Starting Lineup: Kemba Walker – Jaylen Brown – Jayson Tatum – Gordon Hayward – Daniel Theis
Second Unit: Brad Wannamaker – Marcus Smart (questionable) – Semi Ojeleye – Grant Williams – Enes Kanter
Leading Scorer: Walker (21.8 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Tatum (7.2 RPG)
Leading Assists: Walker (5.1 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Balanced Scoring
The Celtics are one of the only teams that can justifiably argue they have three all-stars and a fourth player who plays at an all-star level when healthy. Walker, Tatum and Brown are all in the conversation for the ASG, and Hayward has looked the part as well when he is healthy. All these guys can score, and they can all score in different ways. Isolation. Pick-and-rolls. Motion offense. Even Kanter is an elite scorer in the post. Having to defend all these different scoring options is exhausting for a defense. The Indiana Pacers, and especially their wings, will have to stay engaged on every possession.
Biggest Advantage: Frontcourt
For how strong the Celtics are with their guards and wings, they have one of the weakest frontcourts out of all the contenders. Theis is active and solid on defense, but he’s undersized and limited on offense. Kanter can score in the post, but he’s abysmal at defense. Vincent Poirer hasn’t been able to figure it out in the NBA. Robert Williams is hurt. Domantas Sabonis should have a size advantage against Theis and should have no problem defending him on defense. Him and Malcolm Brogdon should also be able to tear Walker and Kanter up in the pick-and-roll. When Myles Turner is matched up against Theis, he shouldn’t have to worry about his lack of dominant rebounding. This is overall a big advantage for the Pacers that they will have to take advantage of.
The X-Factor: Turner
With the emergence of Sabonis and other high-volume scorers in the starting lineup, Turner has been neglected on offense to the fifth option. However, that might change tonight. The Brogdon/Sabonis pick-and-roll with surely be used a lot, but they will also look to get Turner involved early with his size advantage over whichever Boston wing has to guard him. In the past, Turner has struggled to punish smaller defenders, but with T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb neutralized by strong defenders, this will be his time to make a statement.
This is a tough matchup for the Pacers. Sabonis and Brogdon should be able to have their way with Walker and Theis in the pick-and-roll, but there are few consistent offensive options after that due to Boston’s strong perimeter defense. On the other side of the court, Boston has an extremely balanced attack with four players scoring over 18 PPG. The Pacers will need Turner to show he can take advantage of a size mismatch, dominate the bench and utilize the Sabonis/Brogdon pick-and-roll as much as possible. If those three things go as well as possible, then they can steal this one from the Celtics. But Boston is overall a tough matchup for the Pacers.