Celtics Lead

Low-Scoring Game One is No Surprise

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The Boston Celtics opened their playoff campaign with a scrappy, hard-fought 84-74 win at home against the Indiana Pacers.

Both the Celtics and Pacers struggled offensively throughout the entire game. Highlighted by an eight-point third quarter by the Pacers, neither team found much success scoring the ball. The highest scoring quarter for either team came in the third, when the Celtics scored what is now considered a measly 26 points.

While neither team shot the ball well (Boston: 36.4%, Indiana: 33.3%), poor performance on the offensive end isn’t solely responsible for the low scoring affair. Both teams were near the top of the league when it comes to defense, and both have players who make an impact on the defensive end.

Boston’s Defense

The Celtics maintained a steady defense throughout the season. Boston finished the season with a defensive rating of 107, good for sixth in the NBA only 0.2 behind the Raptors for fifth. Brad Stevens has only coached a team that finished outside of the top-half of the league in defensive rating once, his rookie season in 2013-14, when the Celtics finished seventeenth in defensive rating. Since then, his defenses have finished 12th, fourth, 14th, second, and most recently sixth.

The Celtics also finished the regular season top-nine in steals (8.6, fourth in the league) and blocks (5.3, ninth). While Al Horford might not have the statistics to support it, he’s a valuable defensive asset for Boston. Jayson Tatum (25th) and Kyrie Irving (42nd) both finished top-50 in defensive win shares in the regular season as well, proving themselves to be solid defenders.

The Celtics managed to hold teams to 13.2 fast-break points per game in the regular season as well. That number was good for the 11th best mark in the league. On top of that, they finished fifth in opponent points in the paint per game (45.9) and fourth in opponent points off turnovers per game (14.8). Those numbers held true in the opening playoff game, as they allowed 36 points in the paint and 14 points off turnovers against the Pacers.

Individually, the Celtics played great defense as well. The leading scorer for Indiana on Sunday was Cory Joseph, who came off the bench to drop 14 points. The only other player to reach double figures in scoring was Bojan Bogdanovic who scored 12 points on 36% shooting.

Indiana’s Defense

The Pacers finished the regular season with a defensive efficiency of 105.9, good for third in the league. The team allowed the fourth fewest points in the paint of any team in the league, giving up just 44.8 points per game inside.

That in large part is because of center Myles Turner. Turner finished 32nd in defensive win shares, one of six players on the Pacers to finish in the top 48 for defensive win shares (more than any other team in the NBA). The others include Bogdanovic, Joseph, Thaddeus Young, Domantas Sabonis, and the injured Victor Oladipo.

Turner averaged 2.69 blocks per game in the regular season, tops in the league. His presence down low makes it difficult for slashers such as Jaylen Brown, Irving, and post player Horford to score how they typically do. His presence down low is a large reason why the Celtics were held to just 24 points in the paint Sunday afternoon, less than half the league average of 48.6.

The Pacers also finished the regular season third in steals with 8.7 per game. The team leader in steals was Oladipo (1.7 steals per game), who again unfortunately suffered a season ending injury and won’t play in the postseason. Plenty of other players on this team are capable too, though, such as Young (1.5 SPG), Darren Collison (1.4 SPG) and Joseph (1.1 SPG).

Moving Forward

It’s unrealistic to expect another game as low scoring as the first for the remainder of this series. Game one was reminiscent of an early-2000’s Detroit Pistons game. The 2004 Pistons allowed just 84.3 points per game, 20.4 fewer than the league leading Pacers this season. Still, don’t expect both teams to pour in 120 points each game. Both teams in this series excel on the defensive end, and the playoffs are a more physical brand of basketball that make offense more difficult to come by. Expect excitement, but don’t expect loads of scoring from here on out.

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About Jared Penna

Jared was born and raised in central Massachusetts and is currently studying journalism at Quinnipiac University. Currently writes for TLSM's Celtics Lead branch.

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