INDIANAPOLIS, IN–The Indiana Pacers beat the Boston Celtics 122-112 to advance to the semi-finals of the In-season tournament. The Pacers went on a 9-0 run in the 4th quarter to book their place at Las Vegas later this week.
The fairytale run is alive for the Pacers as they improve to an 11-8 record on the season.
As Tyrese Haliburton said in his post-game interview, this young team is not going to Las Vegas to make up the numbers, they have intentions to win it all. A victory over the Celtics in a playoff-like atmosphere will only fill them with confidence moving forward.
The Solution to the Pacers’ Defensive Issues is Within
In the previous matchup between both teams, the Pacers gave up 155 points to the Celtics.
In this game, the Celtics missed the presence of Kristaps Porzingis, who missed his fourth straight game with a calf injury.
While this could partly explain their lower-than-usual offensive production, there were defensive adjustments made by the Pacers to restrict the Celtics to 112 points. For a high-scoring team like the Pacers, that is a huge win and gives them a blueprint for future success with their run-and-gun approach.
They showed that they don’t need to suffocate offenses like the Minnesota Timberwolves or Miami Heat but get stops at key intervals in the game like their game winning 9-0 run in the final minutes of the game.
The Pacers’ defensive woes have been well publicized this season. It’s easy to start the trade machine and get lost in hypotheticals.
I am proposing instead that the resolution to these problems be on the roster already. They have Bruce Brown, Aaron Nesmith, and Obi Toppin as capable wing defenders. TJ McConnell has always been a solid perimeter defender. Myles Turner is a good post defender who can move his feet quickly on the perimeter.
In this play, we see Aaron Nesmith pick up Pritchard off the double-drag set by Tatum and Kornet to get Tatum a mismatch on his drive. He kicks out for a three which is made contested due to some quick defensive switching by the Pacers. At the top of the key, Nesmith shows as a help option while remaining glued to his guy. When the ball eventually swings to Pritchard, Nesmith recovers and cuts off the drive causing Pritchard to put up a contested shot before the shot clock expires.
Here, Nesmith lurks in the paint knowing Tatum will beat Myles Turner from the triple threat positions, then rises to swat the shot away at the rim
Aaron Nesmith has all the tools to be the prototypical 3-and-D wing. He possesses a 6-foot-10 wingspan. At 6-foot-6, he has the height to guard 1 through 4. At 215 pounds, he can hold his own in mismatched situations in the post. That will be useful in playoff scenarios where players will hunt mismatches methodically.
Old habits die hard
The Celtics will go as far as Tatum will take them. “Yeah, obviously.” you’re probably thinking. Hear me out before you scoff at me. The reason why the Celtics haven’t won at least a title in the last 3 years despite deep playoff runs: the Celtics. They often tend to be their worst enemy.
They settle for ill-advised threes. They are notorious for living and dying by the three. Shooting so many threes is not the problem. The Warriors won 4 chips in 8 years of living by the three. The problem is when they shoot their shots from behind the arc.
When Tatum becomes aggressive, hunting matchups (sorry for sounding like a broken radio), it unlocks the Celtics’ offense in so many ways.
With these back-to-back plays, the Celtics created separation from the Pacers just before the halftime break. Tatum hunted Tyrese Haliburton both times. This is the maturity and leadership we need to see more of. In the first play, he goes into a triple threat after the on-ball screen. Just over a year ago, Tatum would have taken a step back three. Instead, Tatum attacks the smaller defender, using a spin drive to leave him flat-footed.
In the second play, he gets the defender he wants after Derrick White fakes the wedge to remove Bruce Brown as a help defender thereby creating a free lane for a Tatum drive. He settles for a deep three. He could drive and lay the ball off once Obi Toppin tried to protect the rim.
A drive in this scenario gives the Celtics 2 points and forces the defense to scramble whenever Tatum gets the ball. He’s a capable passer out of the double team so it becomes a pick-your-poison decision for the defense. Celtics need Tatum to be his most aggressive this year if they want to deliver on their title aspirations. He finished the night with 32 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists.
Tyrese is not a system player. He is a system.
Just a couple of plays show the brilliance of Tyrese running this offense against one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Oh, just a simple flashy pass in transition to the trailing Myles Turner for an easy layup.
The reason why this play happens at all is a testament to how well Tyrese is shooting the ball at the moment. Jrue has to guard him so far away from the three-point line because he can hit deep shots. Jrue expected the screen from Turner but it was a fake, giving Tyrese space to light it up from deep.
Here, Tyrese has the easy layup because Jrue Holiday is tired. This is one of the premier defenders in the league. Jrue has been on a full-court press for most of the quarter but with little success. Tyrese beats the press like it doesn’t exist then uses the screen to create just that little separation before the drive leading to the easy layup.
For the first six minutes and thirty seconds of the third quarter, every Indiana basket was either scored or assisted by Haliburton.
He had only 7 points in the first half. After recognizing that the Boston Celtics were playing him to pass, he started the 3rd quarter on the front foot.
Making the right decision on every sequence, the Pacers closed the gap quickly due to his efforts. He recorded his first career triple-double: 26 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists to cap off the biggest night of his career so far.
He made the 4-point play that ultimately swung the momentum firmly in the Pacers’ favor. This is a superstar shot. He made this insane shot from 27 feet.
There’s no reason why the offensive efficiency of the Pacers is not sustainable. It will get better as Manthurin overcomes his 2nd-year block and Obi Toppin becomes more comfortable in this team.
Obi Toppin was projected to be a top 7 player in his draft before he got drafted by the Knicks at 8. His growth was stunted by limited minutes in the Knicks behind Julius Randle so he is in uncharted territory on this team, having this big of a role. His upside as a key rotational piece is worth the shot.