Celtics-Pacers Review: What we saw

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Celtics-Pacers Review: What we saw

INDIANAPOLIS It's going to take some time for both the Boston Celtics and Ray Allen to work out the kinks now that he's coming off the bench. His play in Boston's 86-72 win over Indiana was certainly a good start. Allen powered a Celtics bench with 19 points, nine of which came in the decisive fourth quarter.

Saturday's game was Allen's second straight after missing the previous six with a right ankle injury.

"I told him, 'it's going to take a couple games,'" said C's coach Doc Rivers. "You're still trying to get your legs back."

But his arms and wrists seem to work just fine, as Allen launched up 11 shots in the first half - nearly twice as many as the next Celtics' shooter.

He only had four made shots, but it was clear that as the game went on, his play steadily improved at both ends of the floor.

"In the second half, you could see that he had a breakthrough," Rivers said. "I thought that was terrific."

And while the number of shots Allen got does seem a bit high - he led all players with 18 shots taken - Rivers has no problem if they continue to come the way they did against the Pacers.

"He doesn't search for them (shots) now," Rivers said. "With the second unit, he's the go-to, him and Kevin (Garnett). Kevin couldn't buy a shot for a while, so we went with Ray. And Ray made some shots."

Indeed, Allen's ability to knock down jumpers was an important part of Boston's much-needed victory over Indiana on Saturday. Here are a few other keys outlined prior to the game, and how they played out as the Celtics (31-24) look to extend their lead in the Atlantic Division on Sunday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR The Boston Celtics got a rare day off on Friday, having played back-to-back games against San Antonio and Chicago, respectively, the two previous nights. They day off could not have come at a better time. Not only do the C's look as though they could have used the rest, but playing with one day off between games has usually been a good sign of things to come for Boston. This season, the Celtics are 20-10 in games in which they have one day of rest. That is far and away their best winning percentage in terms of how they perform following off days. You can count Paul Pierce among the C's who believes the day off will bode well for the Celtics' chances of winning tonight. "This is a tough schedule at this point," Pierce said. "We need the rest; we need to try and regroup ourselves and bounce back from two tough losses."

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics were indeed the fresher team, and came out playing like it. They broke open a 15-all tie in the first with a 9-4 run to end the quarter. And in the second quarter, the C's pulled ahead by as many as 17 points before settling on a 10-point halftime lead. Indiana chipped into the Celtics lead in the third quarter, but Boston continued to make all the big shots and get all the necessary defensive stops to keep a nice cushion between them and the Pacers. Once the fourth quarter rolled around, Boston continued to play with a lead that the C's were once again able to push into double digits.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Avery Bradley vs. Paul George: Avery Bradley is used to guarding bigger players, but Paul George will be a handful, for sure. Besides the six-inch height difference, Bradley's also dealing with a guy that's more than 30 pounds heavier. On top of that, George is coming off a career night in which he grabbed 16 rebounds. It was the most rebounds grabbed by an Indiana guard since 1977 - a span of 35 years. And it was the second-highest rebounding total for a guard in a game this year. The top spot belongs to Rajon Rondo, who grabbed 17 rebounds as part of a triple-double of 18 points and 20 assists in Boston's 115-111 win over New York on March 4.

WHAT WE SAW: Neither player contributed much in terms of scoring, but the edge has to go to Bradley simply because he did a better job of playing the role he has with the Celtics. He is a defensive pest which was a contributing factor in George scoring just two points which included him missing all seven of his shots from the field. "First of all, Paul George is a very good player," Bradley said. "He had an off-night tonight, and I tried to make everything hard on him. Like he said, he didn't make shots tonight. But they are a good team."

PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett hasn't been his usually consistent self lately. In the month of April, Garnett has shot jus 36.1 percent from the field - that's about 15 percent points below his season average. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has said he will give some thought during this current stretch coming up, to sit a player or two. Do not be shocked if Garnett misses a game in the coming days that's non-injury related.

WHAT WE SAW: Garnett once again had his share of stretches in which he struggled to score, missing a number of shots he normally makes. Part of that can be attributed to him having to defend Roy Hibbert who had nine points on 3-for-9 shooting, but also grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds. As for Garnett, he finished with 15 points on 6-for-15 shooting, and he grabbed seven rebounds.

STAT TO TRACK: When you look back at what went wrong in the Celtics' loss at Chicago on Thursday, without question it was their struggles defensively in the third quarter. Tonight they face an Indiana team that is at its best in the third quarter of games. The Pacers average a league-best 25.8 points per game in the third quarter. Boston will try and counter with a defense that has been very strong in the third quarter, giving up just 21.8 points in the third which ranks second in the NBA and has been the C's best quarter defensively in terms of limiting opponents scoring.

WHAT WE SAW: The third quarter was a struggle for both teams, which actually worked out in the Celtics' favor. Having went into the half with a 10-point lead, the C's were more than happy to have been able to maintain a comfortable lead - eight points - going into the fourth.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.