INDIANAPOLIS The Indiana Pacers' bench doesn't always put up huge numbers. But their impact has been a big reason why the Pacers have had so much success this year and why the Boston Celtics will have their hands full when the two square off tonight.
"We got nine, 10 guys deep on our bench that can come in and play, and have really helped us out," said Pacers swingman Danny Granger. "It's a luxury to have, that we have so many guys that are able to contribute."
The Celtics' second unit is in transition now with Avery Bradley in the starting lineup and Ray Allen coming off the bench. And like the Pacers, they too are counted on to contribute.
While most of the attention given to bench play has to do with scoring, the defense played by both second unit's has been among the best in the NBA.
According to the website HoopsStats.com, the Celtics' bench gives up an NBA-low 26.4 points per game. The Pacers' second unit defensively has been pretty good as well. Teams are scoring 29.6 points per game against them which ranks sixth in fewest bench points allowed per game. In Indiana's 103-98 win over Oklahoma City, the Thunder bench tallied 18 points - more than 13 points below their season average.
Bench play will indeed be a factor in tonight's outcome. Here are a few other keys to tonight's game with the C's needing to win it in order to tie the head-to-head series up at two games apiece and potentially, get home court advantage if the two finished the regular season with an identical record.
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."
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.
PLAYER TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett hasn't been his usually consistent self lately. In the month of April, Garnett has shot just 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. Don't be shocked if Garnett misses a game in the coming days that's non-injury related.
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.