The Celtics have jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the Pacers despite getting off to slow starts and being forced to claw their way back into games.
Brad Stevens knows that can’t continue as the series shifts to Indianapolis.
In Game 1, the Pacers started fast from the tip before the C’s put together a strong second-half performance to pull out the win, while Indy got off to good starts in both the first and third quarters of Game 2 before the Celtics stormed back in the fourth.
“You have to approach each game with Game 7 urgency,” Stevens said on a conference call with reporters on Thursday. “There’s no question about that. We’ve talked about that since last Tuesday after our regular season was over.”
Stevens has given credit to the Pacers when it comes to his own team’s slow starts. After Game 1, he noted how their physicality played a factor as they controlled the game for most of the first half before unraveling in the second half.
In Wednesday night’s Game 2, the Pacers were much better to start the second half, which Stevens noted was an important difference. The Celtics were good enough late to overcome their slow starts at home in both games, but on the road, it’s likely not sustainable.
“We’re going to have to clean those up,” Stevens said. “I think if you start halves on the road like we’ve started the last two, first and third, you’re probably in trouble. So, we need to be tighter in those areas, better in those areas, but give them a lot of credit for how they’ve played and those are hard, hard games to win, and I thought our guys did a good job of maintaining their composure and finding a way.”
Smart gives a boost
Even when Marcus Smart isn’t playing, he’s making an impact.
The Celtics guard, who’s out with an oblique tear, was not with the team at TD Garden for Sunday’s Game 1, but he was there for Wednesday’s Game 2, as he took on the role as a supporter from the bench.
“I love having him out there,” Stevens said. “He’s loud, you can hear him, he’s always engaged, and you can tell when he’s not around. Obviously, we prefer him to be in uniform and playing so he can use all of his physical abilities and his voice, but the next best thing is him on the bench with his voice and he’s just got a great vibe about him. He helps you regardless if he’s playing or not.”
Horford pushes through
Al Horford played the final 15 minutes of Game 2, and Stevens joked after that the big man “was probably pissed at me” because he never called a timeout during that stretch.
But Horford was ultimately fine without an extra breather, and was key during the Celtics comeback, hitting a pair of shots at the beginning of the fourth and delivering a crucial block of Bojan Bogdanovic in the final minute. He played 37 minutes despite some uncertainty before the game that he would even play due to an illness.
Stevens was asked if there’s any reservations about playing Horford too much, but there seems to be so such concern.
“He’s very open with me, he’s very communicative with me about how he feels, if he can go,” Stevens said. “I told you guys he was mad at me for not calling that timeout, but he looked at me like he was going to kill me if I took him out, so I took that as a bigger threat and I just left him in there. But I’m not worried about it. We manage that stuff all year, so that we can get to this point and play guys 38 or 40 minutes if need be.”
Turnovers a problem
Stevens was pondering more adjustments to be made for his team’s film review when they landed in Indianapolis on Thursday afternoon, and stressed that the Celtics need to focus on the details. One of those undoubtedly is taking care of the basketball.
The C’s coughed the ball up 17 times in Game 1, and had 14 more turnovers in Game 2, several of which were lazy giveaways that allowed the Pacers to get easy buckets in transition. Stevens certainly wants to clean those up heading into Game 3, and said his team needs to collectively own their space and be tougher with the ball.
“They had at least five or seven where they blocked our shots at the rim or made us take a really tough shot and went down the court and scored,” Stevens said. “But they had 11 or 13 off turnovers where they’re just laying it in with no chance of us guarding them, and those are killers because we think one of the strengths of our team is being able to set our defense and making it at least a challenge on every possession to score. So you can’t have those. …
“As an old coaching buddy of mine once told me, we’d be a lot better off if we’re going to turn it over, just drop-kicking it into the stands so that we can just go set our defense than throwing it to the other team and letting them run out with it. Those run-outs killed us.”