Celtics

What led to dominant Celtics defense in Game 1 win over Pacers?

(Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The Celtics played one of their worst offensive games of the 2018-19 season on Sunday afternoon, yet they still managed to win by double digits. Those are two statements that have been true together all year long for this team.

The Celtics rode their offense to wins for most of the season, as indicated by their 0-9 record in games where they scored 100 points or less prior to Sunday. When this group had to get down and dirty in the regular season while the shots weren’t falling, they weren’t able to grind things out. However, that changed in an 84-74 victory over the Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, which was a pretty impressive accomplishment when you considered all the lowlights for the Celtics on paper offensively. They shot a season-low 36.4 percent from the field, including just 37 points from inside the arc and managed just 24 points in the paint on 12-of-32 shooting.

That did not come back to haunt Boston in Game 1, largely thanks to a Pacers team that easily serves as the worst offensive squad among the 16 playoff teams in both conferences. They are devoid of dependable scorers and that reality was painfully on display in the second half of Game 1 when the Celtics limited them to a paltry eight points in the third period and 29 points overall in the second half, which turned a tight first half contest into a fourth-quarter blowout.

Yet, after watching the Pacers put together one of the worst shooting performances in a half in playoff history, the question is worth asking: How much of this was the Celtics playing great defense rather than a woeful Pacers offense having a bad shooting night? Boston had struggled mightily with their defense in the second half of the season (20th in NBA) before a late lineup change by shifting Aron Baynes into the starting five helped to settle things down and get them back on track.

Without Marcus Smart in the fold now, there was a legitimate concern the Celtics defense would see some more serious dropoff, but that was not a problem in Game 1. Were the Celtics able to flip a switch and amp things up defensively? How much credit should Boston get for holding the Pacers to eight third-quarter points. Let’s take a closer look at just how much credit the Celtics deserve for the shutdown performance.

Pacers third quarter shooting stats
2/19 FG, 0/8 3pt, 4/7 FT, five turnovers, eight points

Third quarter shot-by shot breakdown: