Celtics need the Game of Atonement vs. Pacers to begin… now


BOSTON -- As much as coaches and players talk about staying in the moment in the playoffs, they sure don’t waste much time going all Bill Belichick on us when it comes to moving on.

Minutes after Boston’s Game 1 win over Indiana, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was already laying out the need-to-get-better blueprint for Game 2 on Wednesday.

A similar scene was playing out in the Pacers locker room, which is understandable considering they held Boston to just 84 points and still lost by double figures.

As much as you will hear players and coaches talk about the playoffs being a game of survival, it’s also a Game of Atonement for all involved, regardless of the outcome.

The Pacers need to make some changes.

We get that.

But the Celtics?

They too see room — lots of room — for growth.

Here’s a look at some key areas that both teams didn't do as well as they would have liked in Game 1, with the goal being to atone for those shortcomings in Game 2.



Horford had a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds along with five assists. But there was a sense in the moments following Boston’s Game 1 win, that they probably could have utilized Horford in an even more meaningful way.

“We need to do a better job of giving him space,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who added, “and getting him into advantageous action as a team and as a coaching staff, and so that is what we will try to figure out.”

When Stevens talks about “advantageous action” for Horford, the one matchup that worked against the Pacers most of this season, is getting him the ball on the block when matched up against Thaddeus Young.

In the four regular-season games plus Sunday’s Game 1 matchup, Young has defended Horford for 95 possessions.

Horford’s numbers when defended by Young?

He has scored a total of 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting from the field while the Celtics as a team have scored a total of 110 points.

And the idea of putting a different defender on him doesn’t exactly make limiting Horford’s impact any less.

In Indiana’s Nov. 3 win over Boston, Myles Turner spent the most time (36 possessions) guarding Horford, who still scored nine points on 4-for-10 shooting against Turner in addition to Boston scoring a total of 27 points.

And in Boston’s Jan. 9 win, Domantas Sabonis spent a Pacers-high 30 possessions on Horford, who scored four points on 2-for-4 shooting but dished out an eye-popping eight assists.

Better utilizing Horford in Game 2 should pay off handsomely for the Celtics.


The first half of Game 1 was uncharacteristically full of mistakes by Boston, resulting in 10 first-half turnovers that led to 11 points for the Pacers. Keep in mind this Celtics team ranked third during the regular season with just 12.8 turnovers per game.

But on a night when very little went according to how Indiana wanted, their defense - particularly when it came to forcing turnovers - was on point.

That's not all that surprising when you consider Indiana ranked third in the NBA in turnovers caused (15.6) per game.

Doing a better job of limiting those turnovers will indeed be a point of emphasis for Boston between now and Wednesday night’s tip-off.


Going forward, the Boston Celtics need Kyrie Irving to be a more efficient scorer than what we saw in Game 1. He shared game-high scoring honors of 20 points with Marcus Morris but he did so on a less-than-efficient shooting night in which he successfully converted just 6-of-17 field goal attempts.

Despite Irving struggling to make shots he normally makes, the Celtics had to be encouraged by what the six-time All-Star was able to do from a defensive standpoint.

His defensive rating of 74.6 was third among players to log at least 30 minutes of court time, and was tops among all guards on the floor.

And while defending at such a high level is certainly a huge plus for the Irving and the Marcus Smart-less Celtics, at the end of the day Irving knows as well as anyone that his ability to score will be what ultimately puts the Celtics over the top as a team. And the more efficient he is in doing that, the better Boston’s chances become of having a deep postseason run.



It sounds simple, but a big part of Indiana’s problems in Game 1 was their inability to knock down shots. The Pacers connected on just 33.3 percent of their field goal attempts, the worst shooting percentage among NBA teams in Game 1 matchups.

No surprise that the Pacers are also at the bottom among playoff teams when it comes to offensive rating (77.0) and are among the worst when it comes to 3-point shooting (22.2 percent, 13th among 16 playoff teams).

“It wasn’t a lack of effort; it was a lack of shot-making,” said Indiana’s Wes Matthews. “Ultimately, what doomed us was that third quarter.”

In the third, Boston outscored the Pacers 26-8 as Indiana missed 17 of its 19 shot attempts.

While that was indeed an outlier for them shooting, it wasn't like they were lighting it up in the other three quarters of play, either.


Bojan Bogdanovic has been the Indiana Pacers’ best scorer, but the Celtics have been able to keep him under wraps in recent games.

In Game 1, the Celtics used nine different defenders on Bogdanovic, although Jaylen Brown spent the lion’s share of the game defending him.

Bogdanovic would score just 12 points, with just two of points coming while Brown defended him for what was 31 of 68 possessions.

“They did a pretty good job,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s playoff basketball; they’re grabbing, holding. At the end of the day I have to do a better job to get open.”

And that means doing a better job of utilizing his teammates when it comes to setting screens. From there, he also sees the need for him to better utilize switches to his advantage.

“Overall I have to be more aggressive,” he said.

And impactful. Because if he's struggling to score, the Pacers are in deep trouble just being able to compete, let alone win a game in this series.


On the road, any chance to get easy points has to be maximized. In addition to a ton of missed shots from the field, the Pacers also came away feeling as though they also shot themselves in the foot with one brick after another from the free throw line.

In Game 1, the Pacers were just 12-for-21 from the line, or 57.1 percent.

Now the Pacers have not been a great free throw shooting team all season, so to see them struggle in Game 1 wasn’t a total shock.

But as much as they have had their free throw issues of the past, those issues weren’t nearly as problematic as what we saw in Game 1.

During the regular season, Indiana shot 75.1 percent from the free throw line, which ranked 22nd in the NBA.

Looking at the number of free throw attempts (23.4) Indiana averages this season relative to how many they took in Game 1 (21), the Pacers probably missed about four more than they normally would.

But the problem wasn’t just that they were missing them, but the critical timing of those misses.

Four of those misses (on six attempts) came in the second quarter when Indiana was in control of the game and had the potential to extend their double-digit lead even more.

Those misses allowed Boston to hang around long enough to get their act together, go on a run and leave the Pacers playing the “What if …” game as they lick their wounds from a 10-point loss in Game 1 that was fueled in part by their inability to make easy shots… like free throws.

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