Preview: Celtics at Pacers
Following coach Frank Vogel's order to "play mad," the Indiana Pacers rolled to their widest margin of victory of the season on Friday. The Boston Celtics can only hope the Pacers' moods have improved by the time they tip off Sunday in Indianapolis. Indiana, which snapped a two-game skid and preserved the best record in the Eastern Conference with a 114-81 win over Houston on Friday, is 12-1 at home.
The Celtics are in danger of earning the dreaded distinction of a first-quarter team, as they've blown leads of 19 and 18 points in their past two games. "When you start to lose a lead, that's challenging," Boston coach Brad Stevens told reporters. "We've got to be better at playing the next possession regardless of the circumstance." Indiana won the first meeting this season, 97-82 on Nov. 22 in Boston, to snap a streak of four straight regular-season losses to the Celtics.
TV: 6 p.m. ET, CSN New England (Boston), FSN Indiana
ABOUT THE CELTICS (12-16): Boston is tied with Toronto atop the weak Atlantic Division but it would be in much better shape without five losses after entering the fourth quarter ahead or tied. "You have to stay focused," guard Jordan Crawford told reporters. "You've got to step on the pedal when you have them down." If the Celtics took away one positive from the Washington loss it's the play of guard Avery Bradley, who scored 26 points to give him double-digit scoring in four straight games and eight of the last nine.
ABOUT THE PACERS (21-5): Indiana got a key piece back Friday, as forward Danny Granger played his first regular-season game in more than nine months and finished with five points, two rebounds, a steal, a blocked shot and five turnovers. "It felt good just to be back out playing again," Granger, who averages 18.1 points and 5.2 rebounds for his career, told reporters. "I knew it was going to take a long time to get in a groove. I was just happy I made one shot, honestly." Granger adds depth to a bench that continues to improve and produced a season-high 41 points against Houston.
1. The Celtics are averaging 30.4 points in the first quarter in nine games this month and outscoring opponents by an average of 5.4 points in the opening period.
2. Indiana is 10-3 when trailing at halftime.
3. The Pacers are 13-0 when holding opponents under 90 points and 19-1 when allowing fewer than 100.
PREDICTION: Pacers 98, Celtics 89