Ever since Victor Oladipo went down with a season-ending leg injury on January 23rd, no playoff team in the NBA has a worse record (17-19) than the Pacers. It’s with this backdrop that the Celtics walked into the ideal matchup for themselves in the first round of the postseason — despite the injury to Marcus Smart. The Pacers are a group of scrappy overachievers with grit and that's apparent on the defensive end of the floor where they were a top-3 team this regular season and still a top-1o group without Oladipo.
With that mind, let’s take a closer look at what exactly the Pacers do well on defense, where they will try to attack Boston and what the x-factors will be in the first round matchup when the Celtics have the ball before diving into a series prediction:
The Basics (Post Oladipo Injury — 39 games)
Pace: 99.89 (27th in NBA)
OffRtg: 107.0 (21st)
DefRtg: 106.8 (10th)
NetRtg: +0.2 (15th)
Forcing turnovers: The surprise top-3 defense in the NBA does a lot of damage thanks to its pressure schemes in the pick-and-roll defense. It has allowed them to rank in the top-5 of turnovers forced in the NBA on the year, a number that has still persisted at a high mark despite the absence of backcourt stopper Victor Oladipo. Indiana has plenty of long bigs in Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young and Domantas Sabonis that make it tough for smaller guards to pass over and they run a disciplined scheme under Nate McMillan. Luckily for Boston, they are one of the better teams in the league when it comes to ballhandling, but Irving, Hayward and Rozier will be put to the test here. Guys with weaker handles like Tatum and Brown will need to be vigilant to ensure they don’t sacrifice possessions as well.
Not fouling: The Celtics have been allergic to the free throw line for much of the season and the Pacers won’t give them consistent help in turning the tide on that front this postseason. Indiana ranks fourth in the league among free throws allowed, thanks to a collection of savvy mobile bigs and smart gameplanning by MacMillan. They don’t pile up fouls early in quarters and their lineup is pretty versatile on the whole with good length among the starting wings with Matthews and Bogdanovic. There will be plenty of mismatches here for the Celtics to target from a speed standpoint (Bogdanovic) but Indiana will put up a good fight in all of those and won’t give fouls easily. The Celtics will need to be smart with their aggression in order to counteract this and create easy scoring chances at the free throw line.