at Conseco Fieldhouse, 7 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
The Eastern Conference-leading Celtics look to bounce back from their first loss in more than a month when they visit the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night.
Boston (23-5) had its 14-game winning streak snapped in an 86-78 loss at Orlando on Saturday. The loss was the team's first since a 102-101 defeat at Toronto on Nov. 21 and was its lowest-scoring game of the season.
While Shaquille O'Neal and former Pacer Jermaine O'Neal both returned from injuries, Rondo missed his fourth straight game with a sprained ankle. The team has also been without center Kendrick Perkins all season.
It's the absence of Rondo, the NBA's assists leader, that has hurt the most recently. Boston has struggled to move the ball the last two games without its floor leader. The Celtics had a season-low 15 assists against the Magic after escaping with an 84-80 win over Philadelphia last Wednesday in which they had 19 assists. Rondo isn't expected to play Tuesday.
"I don't know if it did today, but it will, let's be honest," coach Doc Rivers told NBA.com regarding whether injuries played a factor in the loss to the Magic. "But listen, nobody is going to cry for us."
The Celtics have lost back-to-back games only once this season, but they've won three in a row and nine of 11 against the Pacers (13-15), including a 99-88 victory Dec. 19 in which they were also without Rondo.
That was the first time in seven games against Indiana that Boston failed to reach 100 points. Six players scored in double figures, including Paul Pierce, who had a triple-double with 18 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
This was the third straight year Boston has played on Christmas Day. The previous two seasons the Celtics struggled immediately after. They defeated the Magic last Christmas, but then lost three straight and eight of 12.
However, Indiana doesn't appear to pose much of a problem. The Pacers have lost five of seven while failing to score 95 points in the last three games. They fell 104-90 to Memphis on Sunday, shooting 35.6 percent.
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FORSBERG'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Harassing Hibbert: The Celtics really made the Pacers work during last week's meeting in Boston, particularly Roy Hibbert. Indiana put up 27 shots at the rim, but connected on 10 of them, a head-shaking 37 percent (Hibbert missed six shots close to the hoop, finishing 3-of-9 from that range). Indiana also struggled from the perimeter, highlighted by Hibbert going 1-for-6 from 16 to 23 feet. “[The Celtics] really worked to get their hand up and, you know, Roy had a lot of 16-17 footers, and I think he made one," said Pacers coach Jim O'Brien. "So, we knew that he could get that shot. He’s a solid shooter from there, because we knew [Shaquille O'Neal] and [Glen] Davis would be crowding the lane, so we would try to use Roy inside and outside." Didn't work. Hibbert finished 8-of-23 shooting overall.
Earn the praise: Following last week's meeting, Indiana's Danny Granger tossed out some lofty praise, ranking the Celtics ahead of the Lakers and Heat this season. "“I think the Celtics are more talented than those other teams, across the board," said Granger. "They probably have 40 years of All-Star games between. They’re more talented than those teams; they’re more tied in defensively. Even offensively, they really know how to play with each other. So I think that’s the best team right now." Coming off a loss to Eastern Conference rival Orlando, the Celtics need to re-establish themselves in a "What have you done for me lately?" league.
Value the ball: The Celtics shot 54 percent and outrebounded the Pacers overall, so how in the world was last week's meeting close until Boston pulled late? The Celtics committed 18 turnovers leading to 13 points and the Pacers generated 19 second-chance points off a whopping 16 offensive rebounds. That's 32 points (36 percent of Indiana's total output) that could have been avoided.