First, the good news. The Celtics beat the Pacers last night at the Garden, 94-75. The blowout win was a defensive clinic. Avery Bradley’s return has helped smooth out the rotations (Terry to the bench) and taken some pressure off of Rondo, defensively. Courtney Lee seems to realize his days are numbered, making him more aggressive last night (13 points on 6 of 9 shots). Rondo had his best game in recent memory, contributing in all aspects (18 points on 14 shots, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, plus 15 in the +/-). Maybe the hip feels better. Maybe the fact that Rondo could focus his energy on offense with Bradley back helped. Likely, both were factors.
Before we decide the Celtics are fully back, let’s look at who the Pacers are. For some perspective, the Pacers offense is 27th in the NBA in offensive efficiency. They’ve scored 100 points in a game only twice over their last twenty contests. The Pacers are 28th in pace, a stat which measures a team’s average number of possessions per game. Teams that run give the Celtics trouble. Milwaukee, who is 5th in pace, beat the Celtics three times in four games. Since Danny Granger’s injury, the only offensive options they have are Paul George and David West. George Hill, the Pacers defensive-minded, 3-point shooting PG, was out with a thigh injury. The drop-off from Hill to D.J. Augustin is noticeable. Hill would’ve made life tougher for Rondo, and eased the pressure on George and West (both shot a miserable 4 of 18 from the field). So, let’s take the win for what it was: much-needed, but just a first step, and against a weak offensive team without it’s starting PG. Still, the defense held Indiana to 32% from the field.
In one of their more physical games of the season, the Celtics were whistled for 28 fouls, and the Pacers couldn’t make them pay at the line (17 of 28). Sullinger’s play (30 minutes, 4 offensive and 10 total boards, 6 fouls) gave the Celtics the physicality they’ve often lacked. Of course, his defensive liabilities were minimized by the fact Indiana was the night’s opponent. Credit the C’s with getting out of their rut. Let’s see if they can maintain that physical-play against Atlanta in a tough back-to-back tonight and then Monday in New York.