In the NBA's one-night version of the NIT tournament, on the same night the Timberwolves and 76ers squared off against one another, the Celtics hosted the 3-15 Detroit Pistons at the Garden on Wednesday night. Detroit came into tonight's contest on a nine-game losing streak, while Boston was coming off of a tough loss in Atlanta last night where they blew a 23-point lead for their fifth consecutive loss.
Somebody had to win.
One of the biggest keys head coach Brad Stevens hoped to correct prior to tonight's contest was Boston's physicality. Far too often this season, the men in green have run a stagnated attack that falls in love with the perimeter game and submisses to their opponent in terms of aggressiveness. Despite a hot start that included a couple of post-ups, dribble-penetration and a healthy pace, tonight's game was more or less the same old song and dance.
The Celtics jumped out of the gate to abruptly build a double-digit lead, but [sarcasm] shockingly [/sarcasm] let it go almost just as fast. Lead by a physically dominant first quarter from up-and-coming star Andre Drummond, Detroit countered Boston's strong start with an 11-0 run of their own and took control of the lead heading into the second frame.
However, it doesn't take any kind of outrageous John Hollinger-style number crunching to read that both teams played ugly basketball for the majority of the evening. As each side traded mini runs, perimeter jumpers were launched without an off-switch in a contest that operated like a pickup game, and neither squad was able to establish an offensive rhythm with any kind of consistency. Both sides took decent care of the ball, but just because they didn't cough it up to the opposition it doesn't mean that they made the right decisions.
With under four minutes remaining in the third quarter, both the Celtics and Pistons were shooting 31% from the field. Jump shot. Brick. Quick pick and roll. Brick. Sometimes no pick at all. Brick. There's your in-depth two-way offensive analysis...
... at least for people not named Kelly. The second-year seven-footer stepped up big when the Celtics needed him most late in the game, playing with an level of aggressiveness we all wish he would inflict on every game. Olynyk was very active on both ends of the floor, as he made multiple plays as a help defender and did a great job of attacking north-south all game long.
Thanks to an outstanding run headed by Olynyk and a big time energy boost from Phil Pressey, the Celtics regained a 10-point lead with four minutes left in regulation.
Olynyk was terrific but Greg Monroe didn't have a problem putting the ball in the basket, either. In fact, the lefty pretty much got whatever he wanted on the block with his crafty low-post arsenal. Monroe could not be stopped in single-coverage situations and he really put a lot of pressure on the defense by getting to the free throw line for 11 attempts (where he shot a perfect 11/11).
Monroe countered Olynyk's spark by scoring 11 points of his own in approximately two minutes, making it anyone's game in the final moments. Just a big time clutch performance by the former Georgetown Hoya, and teammate Caron Butler followed up by burying a cold-blooded triple with 15 seconds left, tying the game at 88.
Jeff Green, who stayed aggressive all night long, made a strong drive to the rim in attempt to win the game but was met by the erasing palm of Andre Drummond at the apex, sending this one into overtime.
And then, just like that, the Celtics couldn't miss. Just 51 seconds into OT, Green and Jared Sullinger each knocked down a three to give Boston the quick upper-hand, and the green never looked back. For a team that shot under 40% for 48 minutes, they sure as hell flipped the switch at the right time and they rallied for a stunning 21-point overtime performance.
We'll take that.
Jeff Green lead the way for the Celtics tonight with 32 points and five boards in a game where he went 6-10 from beyond the arc and knocked down all 10 free throws. Yes, Jeff Green took 10 free throws. Hell, a Celtic took 10 free throws. Green was extremely aggressive attacking the rim from the get-go, and despite the miss, he asked for the ball on the last possession of the fourth quarter. This is the mindset we need to see from him every night. It's all mental with Jeff Green, and he was in the right frame of mind tonight.
Tyler Zeller also did a terrific job in his third consecutive start for the Cs. He certainly wasn't going to do anything to deter the physical prowess of Drummond, but he held his own and was very active around the rim on both ends of the floor. The big fella shot four of six from the field and grabbed 10 boards, and was particularly effective getting position on the glass.
Phil Pressey filled it up with seven points, four assists, three boards, a steal and a three-point shot, but his impact on this game goes beyond the numbers. The pace in which he forced the Celtics to play at when he was on the floor was huge and he really shifted the momentum through two stretches in this game. Pressey certainly has his limitations, but he really improves the team's flow when he gets a chance to play.
After missing the previous 10 games with a sprained ankle, rookie Marcus Smart returned to action tonight but his reinsertion to the rotation was short and sweet. Smart played just four and a half minutes on Wednesday night, where he unsurprisingly hoisted three longballs and unfortunately came up short on each attempt. After two fouls and that third clank, he never made his way back out onto the floor.
Let's hope his limited minutes had more to do with those threes than the ankle.
Look, there are plenty of things for coach Stevens to get on his guys about at tomorrow's film session, but we'll take it any way we can get it. Could you classify this as an "ugly win?" Sure, but a win is a win and despite some of the poor decisions made out there, our beloved Celtics fought hard and dug themselves out of some of their own holes.
No morale victories here, this is just a good old fashioned victory. Enjoy it, Celtics fans.
Player of the Game
20 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks
The Celtics will be back in action on Friday night, where they'll host those purple and gold pansies otherwise known as the Lakers at 7:30 pm ET.