Celtics-Pacers: Keys to the game

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Celtics-Pacers: Keys to the game

BOSTON When it comes to winning in the NBA, there's always a price to be paid. One of the drawbacks in Boston's 91-83 comeback win over Orlando on Thursday was that it meant extending the minutes of core guys like Kevin Garnett.

"It was a tough call for me," said C's coach Doc Rivers, pointing towards tonight's game against Indiana as one of the reasons the choice to extend Garnett's playing time was not an easy one to make. "He wanted to stay in so we allowed him to."

Garnett wasn't alone.

Paul Pierce wound up playing a season-high 44 minutes which included him seeing floor action in all but 23 seconds of the second half.

With a tough, well-rested Indiana Pacers team that arrived in Beantown Thursday afternoon, the C's might have to tap into their bench earlier and more often than usual.

That may not necessarily be a bad thing when you consider how so many of the Celtics' role players stepped up on Thursday, making the most of their opportunity to play meaningful minutes in the absence of starters Rajon Rondo (wrist), Ray Allen (ankle) and Jermaine O'Neal (knee).

It was the kind of victory that bodes well for a team with lots of new faces still trying to figure out how they fit in with the current core.

"It should give us tremendous confidence," Pierce said. "Especially with guys hurt. You got key - key! - guys hurt. Jermaine (O'Neal) was huge the first game guarding Dwight (Howard); our all-star point guard (Rondo), our all-star two-guard (Allen) everything was in the makings for us to lay down (against the Pacers) and get ready for (tonight)."

But they didn't.

Rather than fold, they found a way to escape with an improbable win.

But the success of Thursday night will do them little good against a Pacers squad that already has two wins in as many games against the Celtics this season.

"We owe them," said C's forward Brandon Bass. "They beat us in our place. We went there, they beat us. We just owe them. We gotta come out with the same defensive intensity we had (on Thursday) and get the win."

Here are some of the things to keep tabs on as the Celtics seek a fourth straight win that would bring them back to having a .500 record.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Dead legs have to be a huge concern for the Celtics tonight. The best indicator of this is usually in how a team shoots from the field. Jumpers don't have the same lift, and lay-ups tend to roll in and out more often. That becomes an even bigger deal tonight against an Indiana team that's ranked No. 1 in the NBA in field goal percentage defense (41.2 percent).

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs Danny Granger. It's obvious that Pierce is feeling like his old self -- and not just old -- lately. During the C's three-game winning streak, Pierce has averaged 25.7 points, nine assists and 6.3 rebounds in addition to playing solid defense. "I am starting to get my legs back. I am playing better basketball," Pierce said. Granger has also picked his game up recently, averaging 19.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in Indiana's last three games.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Indiana's Roy Hibbert is arguably the second-best center in the East behind Dwight Howard, but poses a different -- and in some ways, tougher -- matchup problem. Unlike Howard who relies heavily on his strength and athleticism, Hibbert's length is what will give the Celtics problems. Don't be surprised that if Jermaine O'Neal (left knee) can't play, C's Doc Rivers goes with rookie Greg Stiemsma as the starting center instead of having Brandon Bass start at power forward and sliding Kevin Garnett over to defend Hibbert. To the C's credit, they have made things tough for Hibbert offensively in both games this season. In each of the two matchups, the 7-foot-2 center shot 5-for-15 from the field.

STAT TO TRACK: If the Celtics are to have a real shot at winning tonight, they have to keep the Pacers off the offensive boards. Indiana won the second-chance points game by 14 in each of the two previous games. But the Celtics have hope that they can turn it around, especially against an Indiana that has been outscored each of the last three games in second-chance points, something that had not occurred at any point prior.