The Pacers and Celtics tip off their series Sunday afternoon at TD Garden. Following a wild first day of the playoffs in the East which saw both Toronto (2 seed ) and Philadelphia (3 seed) lose on their home floor, hope springs eternal that the Pacers can follow suit.
However, the Celtics are trending in a positive direction which the Pacers found out first hand last week. To get the Boston side of the story before the series starts, we checked in with Bill Sy from CelticsBlog.
Gordon Hayward has emerged as an X-factor for the Celtics with his level of play to end the regular season. Has he been trending in this direction for awhile? How does he change/impact the playing rotation when playing well?
Things started clicking right before the All-Star Game for Gordon Hayward, but then an ankle sprain duing the break slowed down his progress and right when he started to find his groove again, a concussion knocked him out for a week. But since then, he’s been on a tear, averaging over 16 points a game on just under 60% shooting over the last ten games which included a 9-for-9 performance at Bankers Life. What’s drastically different aren’t just the counting numbers, but how he’s attacking defenses. At the start of the year, he settled on the perimeter and lacked confidence in the paint and around the rim.
At this level of play, Hayward gives Brad Stevens a playmaker off the bench and someone who can dominate against second units and teams in foul trouble. With Marcus Smart out, he’s seemingly a candidate to replace Smart in the starting lineup, but my guess is Stevens will continue to bring Hayward in with the second unit to relieve Kyrie Irving of some ball handling duties and go-to scoring.
How does Marcus Smart’s absence impact what the Celtics do? What other concerns do you have heading into the series?
Without Smart, the game plan is more or less the same, but what Smart brings are those moments where momentum seems to change on one big play, whether it’s a floor burn and a big steal or a drawn charge with the game in the balance. He’s the unplanned shot of adrenaline that has invigorated the Celtics so many times this season.
One of my concerns in this series is that the Pacers are a team that throws a lot of punches and the Celtics haven’t always responded to hitting the mat this season. To a man, they’ve all lamented that none of that matters until the playoffs, but there’s a part of me that thinks, “if you didn’t have it then, you’re not going to have it now.” Especially without Smart.
Between Brad Stevens and Kyrie Irving, who do you trust more to deliver what the C’s need in the playoffs?
I feel like I’m being baited to say something that would make Kyrie upset with the media. With Stevens, you have a coach that’s been able to solve every problem in the playoffs over the last two years outside of LeBron James. He’s done it with inferior rosters and a sum-is-better-than-its-parts approach. Admittedly, the Celtics have had issues all year incorporating and catering to everybody’s talent, but when they’re playing up to their potential, they can beat anybody. In a seven-game series, Stevens will figure it out.
However, Kyrie is just the ultimate closer. I get the sense that he’s itching to step up in the playoffs. In those bookend games against Indiana with a home-and-home with Miami sandwiched in the middle, Irving showed a glimpse of his potential in must-win games. In 129 clutch minutes this season, he’s shooting 49.6% from the field. That’s better than Kawhi. That’s better than Harden. That’s what the playoffs are all about.
I might trust Brad Stevens more, but I have faith in Kyrie Irving.