Kevin Garnett and the Celtics get a third crack at the Pacers Friday night.Fresh off an improbable come-from-behind win Thursday in Orlando, the Boston Celtics (8-9, 5-5 home) return home gushing with confidence as they host the Indiana Pacers (12-5, 7-4 away) Friday night at TD Garden (7:30 p.m., CSN). Threes are wild as this is the third matchup of the season between the two teams and we go 3-on-3 with ESPN Boston's Greg Payne and CelticsHub's Brendan Jackson to preview the matchup.
1. Fact or fiction: After Thursday's improbable comeback, Friday has letdown written all over it as the Pacers come to town.
Payne: Fact, but not because the Celtics won't put the effort in. My main concern heading into Friday's game is the key players in Thursday's win not having enough energy to deal with an athletic Pacers club. The C's had to expend a considerable amount of energy to overtake Orlando last night, and while I think they'll still be riding high after that win, I'm concerned about them wearing down very quickly tonight. The return of Rajon Rondo could take a considerable amount of pressure off of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Jackson: Fiction. The Pacers haven't been playing their best basketball as of late and the Celtics have. In past seasons, the Celtics have played poorly on a SEGABABA (second game of a back-to-back) mostly because of how reliant they were on Pierce, Allen, and Garnett. That notion has been completely thrown out the window as Doc Rivers has shown he's willing to play anyone at any time. It's far from a guarantee, but after the last two games, I don't think I'll ever write off this Celtics team.
Forsberg: This initially looked like an incredibly daunting back-to-back, especially after Orlando's quick start Thursday night. Now? The Celtics have more than just the momentum from last night's win working for them. Sure, Boston expended a lot of energy, but if the team can get Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, or Jermaine O'Neal back, that could help them be a bit fresher than they normally would be at the tail end of a back-to-back. Plus, Boston's got a little motivation to atone for two early season losses to the Pacers. That doesn't necessarily mean this one's going to be easy, but in the past it felt like you might be able to chalk up an 'L' before tip-off and not sure that's the case tonight.
2. When Boston is healthy, is there room for Keyon Dooling, E'Twaun Moore, and Avery Bradley in the backcourt rotation?
Payne: No, and I think right now it's still a toss-up as to who gets the majority of the minutes, because all three players have shown at times that they deserve that rotation spot. Having said that, Moore will most likely lose out as Doc Rivers will probably go with his veteran in Dooling every time he's available, and I have to think he'll at least keep trying Bradley first, and if he's ineffective and the C's need a spark, he'll then give Moore a chance.
Jackson: This could be the biggest question of the season. I'll go out on a limb and say there won't be any time this season where everyone is completely healthy. If by some miracle the Celtics are healthy then Rivers will most likely go with the hot hand. Over the past few seasons we've seen the championship teams have various contributors stepping up at different times. Rivers and Ainge may have lucked into a similar situation.
Forsberg: I think this is a tough situation for Rivers. You've got two young guys that could really benefit from minutes right now, especially with both displaying newfound confidence, but Dooling is the sort of veteran presence you're going to want to lean on later in the year and into the playoffs. When everyone is healthy, Dooling still gets plenty of minutes and I think Rivers splits the remaining minutes between Bradley and Moore, leaning on whatever the team needs more of -- offense or defense -- or whoever is playing the more inspired ball on that day.
3. Can the Celtics maintain this level of defensive play?
Payne: I don't see why not. I think the biggest obstacle standing in their way is the schedule, in terms of them getting worn down on back-to-backs and not being able to put the necessary defensive effort forward. But in my opinion, the Celtics still have the skill, the knowledge, and the desire to play great defense, and it's gotten them two crucial, potentially season-changing, victories this week.
Jackson: They are going to have to if they have any hope of contending this season. The good news is that they appear to have the bodies to make this rotation formidable on the defensive end. Last night, the Celtics were able to sustain the defensive intensity even while giving Garnett his customary break every five minutes. The ability to sustain this kind of success while maintaining that rotation will be crucial.
Forsberg: Absolutely. What we've seen lately is more the rule than the exception in recent seasons, right? We all figured there was no way the Celtics' defensive play could have dropped off the ledge it appeared to dive off at the start of the year. It sure seems like we're seeing things come together a bit, especially as veterans start finding their legs. The last five games have been extremely encouraging and let's see if they can maintain it even when the schedule ramps up.