The Indiana Pacers entered Friday's matchup with the Boston Celtics having lost 111-107 to the Golden State Warriors in their previous outing. They lost in a similar fashion against the Celtics.
It was a close matchup throughout the opening half. The Pacers began with an impressive 18-4 run but the Celtics answered back with a 15-2 of their own. Neither team achieved much separation beyond that and the score was 62-61 at halftime with Boston in the lead.
The Celtics put together a strong third quarter and ultimately managed to achieve a double-figure lead in numerous points of the second half. The Pacers rallied back in the fourth quarter but failed to execute well enough in the clutch -- resulting in a 118-112 loss.
Here are three things to like and dislike from Friday's loss:
LIKE: Giving Sumner Some Run
With the Pacers often insisting on using a shortened rotation, it has been a real struggle for Edmond Sumner to find opportunities for consistent playing time. In this game, he received the most minutes (16) within a single-game since January 17.
There was plenty of things to like about Sumner's contributions. His incredible athleticism and 6-foot-8 wingspan make him a frustrating defender for the best of scorers to have to go up against. He routinely disrupted the Celtics' star wings in direct matchups.
Sumner managed to create lane pressure on the Celtics' defense by getting downhill off the dribble at times. He created a spray out three-pointer and was able to get to the free throw line a few times, too. He continued to show enough to warrant being a legitimate rotation player.
DISLIKE: Using Zone Defenses
NBA teams have largely not used zone defensive schemes due to the degree of difficulty it comes with to execute at a high-level. The professional game is far more spaced out than NCAA basketball and the players can operate much better within the gaps.
For whatever reason, the Pacers have insisted on continuing to bring out zone schemes throughout games. It's time to stop it. Well, actually that time came a while ago, but regardless, late is better than never.
Indiana is allowing a staggering 1.053 points per possession when using zone and have deployed it during 10.1% of their defensive plays. This is all despite giving up the 7th fewest opponent points per possession in man-to-man situations.
The Celtics were able to break the Pacers' 2-3 zone way too easily. Using textbook fundamentals like occupying the center of the zone and using high-low passing was enough. Kemba Walker also shredded Indiana within the gaps, too.
LIKE: Slowing Down Celtics' Wings
The Pacers made it a clear focus to slow down Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to which they were quite successful. Neither player was able to get into much of a rhythm in the scoring department, or really offensively, in general.
Tatum put together what has to be one of the lesser outings of his NBA career. He finished with just 9 points on 4-of-18 (22.2%) from the field and 1-of-4 (25.0%) from deep. He was unable to get to the rim and his only make in the paint was a floater. That's a problem when the jumper isn't falling.
The level of play the Celtics received from Brown was better than Tatum but still wasn't up to his usual standard. Brown was held to just 15 points on 5-of-12 (41.7%) from the field along with four turnovers. He had the opposite issue as he went 3-of-5 (60.0%) in the paint but just 2-of-7 (28.7%) elsewhere.
DISLIKE: Scoring Inefficiency
It's difficult to win many games when there is a gap of 11.9% in field goal percentage compared to your opposition. This was the case the Pacers faced as they went 35-of-89 (39.3%) from the field as a team. Struggling outing from key players was a key contributing factor.
It was a tough night for Malcolm Brogdon to make much of an impact offensively, who finished with 12 points on 5-of-17 (29.4%) shooting from the floor. He has arguably been the least effective finisher in the NBA this season and that was on display in this game. To make matters worse, his pull-up jumper wasn't falling.
Meanwhile, Turner had 17 points on 4-of-13 (30.8%) overall and 2-of-8 (25.0%) from beyond the arc. He provided a real spark early in this game by scoring nine early points within the initial few minutes. The Pacers stopped involving him much inside the arc and his jumper wasn't clicking,
LIKE: Perimeter Shooting Volume
The Pacers helped to overcome some of the disparity in scoring efficiency by overcompensating with perimeter shooting volume. Indiana attempted a staggering 46 three-pointers and that was more than double Boston's figure of 22.
Aside from Domantas Sabonis who had three attempts from the perimeter, each of the Pacers' starters finished with at least seven attempts. Meanwhile, Aaron Holiday also had seven shots from beyond the arc. A lot of this was achieved by simply making the right play in terms of moving the ball as a unit.
Indiana's playmakers were completing skip passes at an uncharacteristic rate in this game. The team also made it a point to get into the paint and complete spray outs when openings were created. This was intriguing to see from their team.
DISLIKE: Lit Up By Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker has mostly struggled to find a rhythm since making his season debut in mid-January. His struggled continued entering February but he's been trending significantly closer to his previous form.
Walker's performance against the Pacers was his best of the season as he finished with 32 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 assists with strong efficiency.
There was simply no answer from the Pacers for Walker. He was able to routinely explode and get into the paint for finishes and spray outs. He picked on Indiana's bigs in switches and was able to get whatever he wanted for pull-ups using ball screens and within the gaps.
It was only a matter of time until Walker was going to find a rhythm. He dealt with knee issues in the NBA Bubble and that caused enough concern from the Celtics' front office to aggressively shop in trade talks in the offseason.