PREVIEW: Struggling Boston Celtics tip off pivotal stretch vs. Indiana Pacers

By Field Level Media
Dec 15, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) passes the ball to guard Jaylen Brown (7) against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Losers of three straight and eight of their last 11, the Boston Celtics know they have a lot on the line with four games remaining before the All-Star break.

“These next four games will tell us a lot about where we can go,” said coach Brad Stevens.

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It could be the most important stretch of the season for Boston as it gets set to host the Indiana Pacers on Friday night. The Celtics were blown out 127-112 by the mediocre Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, falling two games below .500 and out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

Boston is tied for last in the Atlantic Division after having the best record in the East just over a month ago.

“I wish I had answers for you. I don’t,” team president Danny Ainge said in a radio appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub on Thursday. “I do believe in my players. I like them all individually. I think they have good futures. I just think right now our team is in a major funk.

“We don’t have a good enough team — in my opinion.”

The assessment is stunning given the presence of All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the starting five. Each struggled against Atlanta, Tatum scoring 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting and Brown going 0-for-6 on 3-pointers in scoring 17 points. Boston’s third-leading scorer, Kemba Walker, sat out the contest that was the tail end of a back-to-back. His knee injury has limited him to 17.3 points per game this season, well below his career average.

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Friday’s game against the Pacers will be followed by a rematch Sunday with the Washington Wizards, who trounced the Celtics 104-91 on Feb. 14 despite being one of the worst teams in the East. Then come its meetings with the much-tougher L.A. Clippers and Toronto Raptors before the break.

Indiana has had its own inconsistencies of late, having lost four of five earlier this month. The Pacers have won three of their last five, however, and had a chance in the final seconds before ultimately falling 111-107 to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.

“I feel like we got key stops at the end of the fourth, but we just couldn’t make baskets,” said Domantas Sabonis, who finished with 22 points and 16 rebounds. “That was the main thing. I think our defense overall there was pretty good … but at the end when we got stops, we couldn’t convert and get the lead.”

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The game was the first for the Pacers after a week off due to two postponements. Malcolm Brogdon scored 24 points, but he and Sabonis combined for 10 of Indiana’s 19 turnovers.

Beginning Friday, the Pacers will play their next four games on the road, including Saturday at the Knicks.

“We’ve got a tough schedule coming up, and we’ve just got to try to take care of business,” said Myles Turner.

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The Celtics and Pacers split their first two meetings this season as part of a back-to-back at Indiana in December.

–Field Level Media