INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle knows the Celtics team he faced Sunday is dramatically different from the one the Pacers played twice last month.
The Celtics came to Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Jan. 21 and beat the Pacers, 119-100, to move to 21-21. Boston is 15-6 since, including its 128-107 stumble in the finale of this three-game road trip.
“They’re just doing everything better,” Carlisle said. “At that time, it seemed like a matter of time before they were going to get it going. They’ve defended at an extremely high level. They’ve upped the pace of their offense. They’re moving the ball better, and over the last 10 or 12 games, I don’t know if there’s a team that’s playing better in the entire league.”
Carlisle did not hide his admiration for Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown or Al Horford.
“They’re scary. They’ve got a lot of weapons, two great young wing players that can both create, score and defend,” he said. “Horford is a really underrated player. As you watch him, his knowledge of the game, the efficiency in which he plays, his versatility. He always plays better on better teams.”
“They present real challenges with their switching defense. They put [Robert] Williams on the [power forward]. They put Horford on the [center] and they switch everything. Forget about scoring, but shot creation is a real challenge.”
With 20 games left in the regular season, and the Celtics likely headed for the playoffs, coach Ime Udoka said he wants to develop rotations that will be reliable for the postseason, and he’s getting a chance to see different layers with the recent acquisitions of Derrick White and Daniel Theis.
“It’s a thing where obviously the change happened with Josh Richardson and Dennis Schröder being gone, so we want to see Payton [Pritchard] in an extended opportunity,” Udoka said. “He’s done a great job and we’re confident in him all year. Adding Derrick to the mix gives us some versatility. You add a guy like Theis for nights like this [back to back]. And you have Aaron Nesmith as well.
“We’re comfortable with going nine or 10 deep, depends on the flow of the game and how Al [Horford] or Rob [Williams] is playing if we decided to spin the three-man rotation. We’re familiar with what we have there already.”
Tatum has nine technical fouls after picking one up Saturday for arguing a charging call in the win over Detroit. Tatum is not close to the limit (16) before receiving a one-game suspension, but Udoka has stressed for his team to refrain from barking at officials and concentrate solely on the game.
But he said he does support his players making a point to officials to get calls later in games.
“Guys have freedom to express themselves,” Udoka said. “If it becomes a hindrance, it’s one thing. We talked to the team about the last time we played Detroit. They played very physical and we had technicals in that game, felt like we were complaining too much. You have to adjust to the game, how it’s being called and force the hand sometimes.
“Instead of complaining about it or getting a technical, you get more aggressive yourself offensively and make them make a call. We used it to our advantage to get to the free throw line.”
There were three technicals assessed and an ejection Saturday.
“[The officials] were pretty on edge and you have to adjust to that,” Udoka said.
With 4:45 remaining in the third quarter Sunday, Brown drew a technical in retaliation after he got flattened in the frontcourt by Goga Bitadze, the Pacers’ 7-foot, 250-pound center. Both Marcus Smart and Udoka were hit with 2:54 to play following an argument with lead official Kane Fitzgerald.
Setting a limit
The Celtics are completely healthy, but Udoka kept Horford off the floor Sunday after the 35-year-old played 37 minutes in Detroit. With the Celtics now having Theis, considered a more dependable option than Enes Freedom, Udoka can rest Horford for stretches . . . Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon played 29 minutes and scored 20 points, one of four Pacers’ starters to hit that mark, after playing 31 minutes in their overtime loss to Oklahoma City on Friday. That was his first action following a month off with an Achilles’ injury . . . Standout rookie Chris Duarte had been out with a toe injury, but returned to action on Sunday and played 26:06 . . . The Pacers were without Myles Turner, who hasn’t played since Jan. 14 because of a foot injury . . . Detroit swingman Hamidou Diallo was fined $20,000 for making contact with NBA official Suyash Mehta, an incident that prompted his ejection Saturday against the Celtics.