Pacers, Celtics meet with No. 4 seed lurking
The Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics will be getting better acquainted over the next few days, and possibly beyond.
The Pacers (45-30) play the Celtics (44-31) in the first of two meetings in an eight-day stretch on Friday night in Boston. They are also in line to square off in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs should the standings hold over the final games of the regular season.
Indiana and Boston each boast a win on their home court against the other, but they aren't exactly playing their best basketball in a bid to perhaps secure the conference's fourth seed and home-court advantage in the potential first-round playoff matchup.
The Pacers have lost five of six following Wednesday's 107-99 loss at Oklahoma City while Boston dropped four in a row before posting a 116-106 victory at Cleveland on Tuesday.
"We've got to take it as the playoffs have started for us," Celtics guard Marcus Smart told reporters. "It's a playoff team and it's a possible team we might play. So for us to come out and really build some momentum against them before the playoffs starts, who knows if we may match up with them. But if we do, we're ready and we built up that momentum against them early."
Smart joined forward Jayson Tatum in scoring 21 points as the Celtics used a late fourth-quarter kick to fend off the Cavaliers in a game that saw six-time All-Star Kyrie Irving sit out for rest purposes.
Irving, who averages team-best totals in points (23.8) and assists (7.1), scored 18 points in a 102-101 setback in Indiana on Nov. 3 and added 12 in a 135-108 romp against the Pacers in Boston on Jan. 9. Indiana was playing the back end of a tough back-to-back set in the more recent meeting.
Small forward Gordon Hayward avenged a 2-for-10 performance for four points in the first meeting with the Pacers by making 5 of 7 shots -- including both 3-point attempts -- en route to 14 points in the blowout win over Indiana.
"We want to play well against them and also get home court," Hayward said. "They're a good team. They play together, they move the ball well, they play to their strengths, they're going to be tough. I think it will be a fun game for us, hopefully one we can look to improve and kinda get ourselves going."
Indiana likely can echo the same thing as its recent tough stretch was extended by former Pacer forward Paul George, who scored seven of his 31 points in a decisive 24-0 run on Wednesday.
Forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who leads the team by averaging 18.0 points, answered a 35-point performance in Sunday's 124-88 win over Denver with 28 points against Oklahoma City.
Indiana misfired on 14 consecutive shots during the pivotal stretch against the Thunder, much to the chagrin of the 29-year-old Bogdanovic.
"In the last month, in every single game, we've got those five or 10 minutes of play-calls that we don't execute (well)," Bogdanovic told the Indianapolis Star. "We get nervous for no reason."
Bogdanovic had 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting in the first meeting versus Boston before being limited to just seven on a 3-of-9 effort from the floor in the rematch.
Power forward Domantas Sabonis has improved his club-best rebound average (9.3) by totaling 51 boards in the last four games. He had 12 points and nine rebounds in the first encounter with the Celtics and 20 and seven in the rematch.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 29, 2019