Opponent: Boston Celtics
Starting Lineup: Kemba Walker - Marcus Smart - Gordon Hayward - Jayson Tatum - Daniel Theis
Second Unit: Brad Wanamaker - Romeo Langford - Semi Ojeleye - Grant Williams - Enes Kanter
Biggest Strength: Perimeter Defense
The Celtics, up and down its roster, are loaded on the defensive end of the court. Jaylen Brown being out for the game hurts them slightly, but they still have Tatum, Smart, Hayward and Theis, who all check out as significant positives onthat end of the court. They, specifically, thrive on stopping penetration. With Smart, Hayward and Tatum in the game at the same time, they have three long, tough wing defenders who are quick enough to stop their own man and long enough to be factors as help-side defenders. Theis is the engine that steers the ship though. He’s emerged as a terrific defensive center. He can switch on to smaller defenders and also hold his own on the block. The Indiana Pacers’ starters may struggle to break Boston’s ironclad defense.
Biggest Weakness: Bench Scoring
The Celtics, who rank 29th in the NBA in bench scoring, will be even more limited with Smart entering the starting lineup in Brown’s place. The only consistent scorer off the bench is Kanter, who may struggle to defending Domantas Sabonis in the Sabonis + bench lineup, which may cause them to play Robert Williams more. If that’s the case, I don’t see how they can generate any offense with their bench. The Pacers will look to separate themselves during second unit minutes.
The X-Factor: Hayward
Tatum has emerged as the star of the Celtics, while Walker is still a scoring machine at the point. Without Brown, Hayward is the clear third cog. He’s put together a strong season, averaging 17.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 4.1 APG on .502/.390/.841 shooting splits. If he’s on, then it’s tough to stop him, Tatum and Walker all in the same night.
Brown being out is a huge loss, but this is still a very good Celtics team, despite losing four out of the last five. They have good-to-great defenders at nearly every position and several guys in their starting lineup who are high-volume scorers. The best chance the Pacers have to go on some runs is with the second unit. Not only are they extremely limited on offense, but Kanter should struggle to guard Sabonis in the pick-and-roll. They will have to make the decision whether to play him because of his offense, or play Williams for defensive purposes. Either way, that’s an advantage for Indiana.