Entering tonight's game, the Celtics played three very close games against the Pistons with only two points separating both teams. With a 1-2 record, Boston was motivated to square the series. They did, but it wasn't pretty.
In the first quarter, Boston looked to challenge one of Detroit's weaknesses: interior defense. Despite having Andre Drummond in the paint, the Pistons are second in the league in allowing FGA's in the paint. After starting the game cold at MSG last night, the Celtics forced the issue inside. Boston's first eight field goals were assisted with Isaiah Thomas breaking down the defense or Sullinger working out of the high post. The team only had one turnover and finished the quarter with a 27-16 lead.
The second was a quarter of odd randomness, but thankfully, the Celtics won the battle. Whether it was Tyler Zeller (coming off a strong performance against the Knicks) replacing Jonas Jerebko...
...or Hack-a-Drummond or the team constantly turning hustle on defense into transition offense...
...Boston stretched their lead and entered halftime with a 20-point cushion. They limited Reggie Jackson to one shot and the Pistons bench to 4-18 shooting. Here's a good indication of how weird the first half was:
The second half opened with some expected letdown after getting out to a big lead. Five consecutive threes cut the it to 12 after it had ballooned to 24, but some aggressive driving from Thomas and timely scoring from Kelly Olynyk helped Boston close out the third with an 8-2 run. The fourth opened with Evan Turner doing Evan Turner things to keep the Pistons at an arm's length. Like in the win against the Knicks, Zeller closed the game defending Drummond and putting him a ton of pick-and-rolls before Drummond was pulled to prevent the Hack-a strategy. There was a scary moment when Marcus Morris fell awkwardly on Jae Crowder's knee, but JC shook it off and finished the game.
You can really see why Boston is ahead of Detroit in the standings. The Pistons do a lot of things well--pick-and-rolls with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, shoot the three, hit the boards--but when those few things aren't working, they'll lose. The Celtics, on the other hand, have multiple players that can defend and score. Six players finished in double figures, but you just never know who's going to have it going on any given night and it looks like Zeller has worked his way into the rotation at least on a situational basis. They can play big. They can play small. They can score. They can certainly defend. They're now seven games over .500 and tied for 3rd in the Eastern Conference after going 10-3 since mid-January, but a big test comes up Friday when they visit Cleveland.