Most NBA playoff series are all about matchups. Knowing where you can attack or hide your weakest defensive link is a critical component to getting the best of any team in a seven-game series.
The Celtics and Pacers played Game 1 on Sunday but they had plenty of time to feel each other out since it’s looked like these two squads have been destined for each other since late March.
"They did some things a little differently then they had in the last two games in a lot of ways," Brad Stevens said after Game 1. "This not like Game 1. This was almost like Game 3 because we had played each other a couple of times in the recent weeks."
Boston made its move towards a Horford/Baynes starting frontline with the knowledge this series was coming down the pike. It’s a decision that paid dividends down the stretch of the regular season as the C’s closed out the year with a 6-2 record, including two head-to-head wins over the Pacers to lock up home court in the first round.
The Celtics learned a few things about themselves in those late-season matchups, but they also had to do plenty of tinkering with their gameplan in the last week once Marcus Smart went down with a torn oblique. His defense is never going to be replaced by anyone on the roster individually but his ability to match up with all of the Pacers guards and wings from Darren Collison to Bojan Bogdanovic created some intriguing choices for the coaching staff without him.
A lot of the focus heading into Game 1 was on who exactly would get the call to replace Smart in the starting five and as we predicted here at BSJ, Jaylen Brown got the nod. Despite a subpar offensive game, Brown did his job admirably on Bogdanovic, limiting him to just 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting in conjunction with Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum. Hayward’s ballhandling and playmaking was a necessity for the bench unit so Brown sliding into the starting five in a defensive-minded role was a natural fit.
The bigger defensive strategic tweak in Game 1 though didn’t come on the personnel front, though. Instead, Stevens and his coaching staff made a surprise move in regards to matching up with the Pacers' starting five and it involved relying on the 21-year-old Tatum in a way we have not seen much this season, while baiting the Pacers into a more preferable matchup.