Comparing the big men of the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 9: Al Horford /

The Indiana Pacers have a loaded center rotation, which gives them a potential advantage against the Boston Celtics.

In football, many believe the notion that games are lost and won in the trenches. For the Pacers, it can be said that their games are lost and won in the paint. The franchise has consistently relied on its big men for success in key stretches. That trend will continue in the Indiana Pacers upcoming first-round playoff matchup with the Boston Celtics.

Centers, and sometimes power forwards, make their living being dominate inside the paint and on the boards. The ability to have a big man that can score, rebound, and defend is neccessary for success in the arduous second season of the NBA, the playoffs.

This season, the Indiana Pacers have continued to rely heavily on their big men to garner production on a night-to-night basis. Now with the playoffs here, the forces inside the paint for the Pacers will have to rise to the occasion.

On the other hand, the Celtics have arguably one of the league’s best lineups of big men. This will be an excellent test for both franchises in the opening round. Statistically, the big men of the Pacers and Celtics have comparable numbers. However, the style of play and skillsets of the two teams differ. For that reason, I will compare the big men of the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics.

Beginning with the Pacers, the development of their big men heading into 2018-19 and over the course of the season has been no small feat. That development has translated to consistent production from one of the league’s stiffest defenses. The stingy defense is anchored by center Myles Turner. For the Pacers, Turner has evolved into a big that has become versatile on both sides of the floor. This is evident as Turner lead the NBA in blocked shots this season with 199 and blocks per game with 2.69.

Since his debut in 2015, Turner has been a threat on offense. As a seven-footer, Turner has a unique ability to shoot the ball from distance and has only gotten better over the course of his career. Evidence of that is Turner shooting 38.8% from the three-point line this season, his best percentage in a Pacers uniform. Turner has also experienced an uptick in rebounding as he holds his career-best numbers in the statistic. In short, he has refined his offensive game.

This season, Turner has become more of a threat on the defensive side of the floor which will pay dividends against the Celtics. With his ability to shoot the ball from distance paired with his ability to defend at high-level, Turner will look to stretch the floor and play above the rim against the Celtics big men. He will be crucial.

With his ability to play inside-out, Turner presents a unique matchup for Celtics bigs Al Horford and Aron Baynes.

Since his arrival from the Atlanta Hawks in 2016, Horford has been a foundation for the Celtics. Horford is an example of a more traditional big man. He makes his living on the block and anywhere within the three-point line, though he is still a solid shooter. Hybrid centers like Turner who can stretch the floor through their range in shooting present a challenge for Horford, but one he will gladly accept.

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Despite not having the range of Turner, Horford has remained efficient from the floor. Horford has also remained a solid-enough rebounder this season which has been a claim to fame for the big man over his twelve seasons in the NBA. In addition, Horford has been a moderate shot-blocker, averaging 1.3 this season. He is well-rounded.

Horford versus the Indiana Pacers will be an interesting matchup to watch. In order to win the battle, the Pacers will have to use their athleticism and range to out-maneuver Horford, who has he has recently battled left knee soreness.

Despite concern regarding his health, Horford takes his game to another level in the playoffs. Horford’s experience on some of the biggest stages in basketball will allow him to thoroughly game-plan and attempt to combat anything the Pacers throw at him. Horford will display his strength, physicality, and basketball IQ in the first-round against the Pacers, a tall task for Turner and the rest of the crew, but an opportunity any player would want to seize.

In addition to Horford, the Celtics have Aron Baynes, who has been a nice compliment to their frontcourt. In the playoffs, depth is essential to sustaining success. Baynes brings that to the table for the Celtics.

While Horford has battled his knee issue, Baynes has answered the call and provided quality minutes. Baynes, like Horford, is a traditional big man who doesn’t quite have an outside shot but is efficient in the paint, however, Baynes is much more paint-inclined than Al. Due to his size and willingness to be physical at the point of attack, the Indiana Pacers will have to use their lack of strength and physicality to finesse the Celtics big.

The strength of the Pacers is in their power forwards. The team has arguably two of the best in the league. Thad Young (and sorta Domantas Sabonis) both have had career-best seasons. Young and Sabonis are renaissance-like players as they have the ability to “do it all.” This separates them from the Celtics cast of power forwards.

Indiana native Gordon Hayward has had tremendous expectations put on him coming off of last season’s gruesome ankle injury. However, the power forward has had difficulty returning to old form. Hayward has had instances of brilliance but hasn’t been able to string together back-to-back dominant performances so far this season.

The last few weeks of the season have seen Hayward have some success, but the defensive prowess of Young and Sabonis will give the Celtics power forward a run for his money. With the rapid pace of the playoffs, the Indiana Pacers will look to have Young and Sabonis exploit Hayward. Not only will Hayward have to prove his worth on offense, but he will also be forced to defend at high-level against Young and Sabonis, who can both thrive in the dunker spot and set hard screens. They make you work.

The second power forward for the Celtics is Marcus Morris. Morris has had instances of inconsistently throughout the season. Despite several strong performances, Morris hasn’t lived up to the expectations placed on him after a tremendous 2017-18 campaign.

Morris gives the Celtics a mean streak, but the power forward has been one-dimension as of late. At 6’9, Morris brings size to the power forward position for the Celtics, however, he will have his hands full on defense with having to guard Young and Sabonis who are more athletic and active on offense.

Like Horford, Morris is also battling injury heading into the playoffs. Morris has been sidelined with a right patellar tendon injury but will play in the first-round. Pacers head coach Nate McMillan will look for his team to take advantage of the uncertainty regarding injuries to both Horford and Morris.

In the NBA playoffs, the contributions by reserve players can make or break a team’s trajectory. Luckily for the Pacers, they have one of the best benches in the league. Offseason acquisition Kyle O’Quinn has been a great addition to the team and has played solid minutes in the forty-five contests he played in during the regular season. If needed, O’Quinn can come off the bench and provide quality minutes in a seven-game series. His ability to come in and be useful should allow Turner and Sabonis to be a bit more physical, as foul trouble becomes less important, though it is still a huge deal.

For the Celtics, their reserve center and power forward Robert Williams has had a promising campaign despite limited minutes. When on the floor, Williams is active and productive, however, his inexperience of the playoffs draws concern whether he can sustain the success if called upon. It is unlikely we will see him on the floor outside of garbage time.

4 stats that defined the Pacers-Celtics matchups this season. dark. Next

The Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics have a lineup of big men with different styles of play. This will present a unique matchup and challenge for the Pacers as they look to get outside the first round of the playoffs after a heartbreaking loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in game seven of last year’s first round. The series between the Pacers and Celtics will test the will of their coaching staffs and force the teams’ big men to remind NBA fans why their presence is so important.