With Avery Bradley back from a shoulder injury, Doc Rivers was able to start a familiar group on Friday night against the Pacers. The Celtics trotted out Rajon Rondo, Bradley, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett – the same starting five they used during a resurgent second half last season.
The unit outscored Indiana’s starters 59-37 as Boston cruised to a 94-75 win, ending a four-game losing streak in the process.
“Maybe it helped,” Pierce said of the starting lineup. “That’s the starting lineup we had when we made the push in the second half last year. Hopefully this is something we can build on.”
Bradley, who has helped make the team better defensively since his return, says using the same lineup that spurred the team in 2011-12 is obviously up to Rivers.
“It could,” he said when asked if using the Rondo-Bradley-Pierce, Bass-Garnett lineup helped the Celtics end their losing streak. “It’s just really up to Doc. Brandon played well tonight, but like I said, it really doesn’t matter what lineup is used if we’re playing this way.”
Bradley was referring to how Boston shut down Indiana’s offense. The Pacers shot just 31.8% from the floor and turned the ball over 19 times. They went 4-for-17 from three-point land. Paul George and David West combined to shoot just 8-for-36 on the night.
“Well, it was our team defense overall. I think it wasn’t specific to two people. I thought our help, our hands, our deflections – we had 15 or 16 deflections at halftime and close to that at the end of the game. I just thought we were physical and I thought we played hard the whole game.”
Rivers didn’t hesitate to label this the team’s best defensive effort of the season.
“Well this year, for sure. I think we had another game – it’s funny, I think the team scored like 100 points – but our defense against Oklahoma City was phenomenal, but they still scored like 100. They’ve got a guy named [Kevin] Durant who’s pretty good.”
The Celtics have prided themselves on their defense since Garnett's acquisition in 2007, but they are currently ranked 12th as they allow 104 points per 100 possessions. The return of Bradley should help improve that figure, but they can’t view him as the savior.
“I try to bring that intensity on the defensive end but that’s my role, to be the energy when I come into the game,” Bradley explained.
As well as they played defensively, the Celtics weren’t exactly facing an offensive juggernaut. The Pacers rank second-to-last offensively with an average of 100.3 points per 100 possessions. The Pacers are another team that likes to hang their hat on defense (they lead the league in that department).
In that regard, the Celtics were very impressive on Friday night. Boston shot 44.9 percent, went 4-for-9 from three and committed just 14 turnovers. They also outrebounded the Pacers by two, a narrow margin, but an advantage nonetheless. The Celtics have struggled to rebound in recent years, but the numbers have been extremely low this season. They rank dead-last in offensive rebound percentage (19.8), but pulled in 12 against the taller Pacers.
Now is as good a time as any for the Celtics to make a run with a home stand on the horizon. Beginning Wednesday night, they’ll play five straight at home and eight of eleven overall.