At various points during their storied history, 60 wins were expected of the Boston Celtics. They try to reach that elite win total for the first time in 22 years on Wednesday when they host the Indiana Pacers.
The Celtics (59-15) lead the Eastern Conference by six games with eight to play. During their glory days of the 1980s, Boston posted 60 or more wins five times in a six-season span, winning NBA titles three times and losing in the finals on two other occasions.
Overall, the Celtics have 11 60-win seasons, but none since the 1985-86 squad went 67-15 and won the NBA title - the last of their 16 championships - by defeating the Houston Rockets in six games.
This edition moved within one win of 60 with a 106-92 victory at Chicago on Tuesday for its fourth straight victory. Once again, the trio of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce did most of the damage - Garnett scored 20 points while Allen and Pierce combined for nine of Boston’s 14 3-pointers.
“The 3-point line can be very tricky at times,” said Allen, who was 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. “You have so many open looks, and I know I’m capable of making them. Paul knows he’s capable of making them, but I think there’s a stigma attached when you shoot too many threes—you’re settling. But the way our offense is, we go through the post. Sometimes, that’s the shot that’s available.”
Pierce has been the most productive of the “Big Three” against the Pacers in their two victories this season, totaling 59 points, 23 rebounds and 11 assists. The swingman has averaged 23.1 points in 32 lifetime games versus Indiana.
The Pacers (31-43) are currently ninth in the East, three games behind Atlanta with eight remaining. Indiana also has the benefit of a soft schedule following this game, playing four games against teams with less than 30 wins in addition to a key game against the Hawks at home on April 8.
Indiana routed Miami 105-85 on Monday for its sixth win in eight games. Danny Granger scored 23 points for the Pacers, but of greater importance was the return of center Jermaine O’Neal to the lineup after missing 33 games with a bone bruise on his left knee.
O’Neal shook off a slow start and finished with nine points, two rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes. The 6-foot-11 O’Neal also felt fully healthy and ready to contribute more.
“I think I’m definitely past that stage as far as being able to say, ‘OK, I’m going to play this game and then sit the next game,’” said O’Neal, who is averaging 15.1 points and 7.1 rebounds. “That was the whole key of me sitting out, to get over that stage and be comfortable with playing.”
O’Neal will undoubtedly be tested on both ends of the court by Garnett, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds in a Nov. 13 victory, but did not play in the Feb. 12 win due to an abdominal strain.