An Eastern Conference tilt between the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers will get the primetime spotlight treatment on Sunday night. Boston’s impressive season-opening win was seemingly wiped from existence when they were destroyed at home by the Brooklyn Nets on Christmas Day. They’ll try to bounce back in their first road game of the season against the underrated Pacers.
There’s a new Eastern Conference king in town
The Celtics had the misfortune of running into the Kevin Durant-led Brooklyn Nets on Christmas day. It was a complete annihilation on both ends of the floor with the Nets coming away with a 123-95 victory. Even though it’s early in the season, it was one of those games that forces a team to look at itself in the mirror. The Celtics are good, but they clearly aren’t on the level of the Nets—at least not for now.
They’ll try to get the ship headed in the right direction on Sunday. Granted, it’s no cakewalk to go on the road and face the Pacers, either. But at least they won’t have to worry about guarding the unguardable Durant and a Nets team that looks to be the best in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers haven’t had a dramatic facelift like the Nets, and they only averaged 109 points per game last season. That at least puts them in the wheelhouse as one of the many teams the Celtics should be able to outscore with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the floor together.
But few teams play defense like the Pacers.
They ranked sixth in the league in defensive efficiency last season with teams averaging only 44.7 percent shooting against them. If other players can’t step up for the Celtics, they could be in for another long night. Tatum isn’t a superstar capable of carrying a team on his shoulders just yet.
Can the Pacers keep the Tatum show on ice?
The Pacers don’t get enough respect for the defensive problems they can cause opponents.It’s the price of being a good basketball team without a household name. Victor Oladipo was well on his way to being considered as such until he ruptured his quad tendon in his right knee. Perhaps he’ll finally find his way back to that level with that injury now being well over a year ago. There’s also All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis. Another leap of improvement from the big-man would go a long ways in turning the Pacers into legitimate contenders.
Indiana needs to win games like Sunday’s run-in with the Celtics to elevate their status in the Eastern Conference. Kemba Walker not being on the floor for Boston is one less offensive playmaker they have to worry about defending. Things will surely get interesting if the Pacers can make things difficult for Tatum and Brown. Marcus Smart is too hit-or-miss offensively, and no one else has proven they’re consistent enough to step up behind the burgeoning star duo.
The Pacers aren’t cut out for offensive shootouts, especially when they’re facing other elite defensive teams. I’m not ready to take that tag line away from the Celtics just because they got ramrodded by the Nets and gave up shot after shot to the Bucks. Those are two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers have a long way to go to prove they’re even close to that level.