BOSTON – Just don’t blow it.
That must have been the mantra running through Marcus Smart’s head as he stepped back for three off the Tyler Zeller inbounds pass.
The Celtics once led by 24 points. But with just over a minute remaining in the game, the Celtics were up only seven and in need of a basket to stop the Pistons’ onslaught. Smart came off a pindown into the corner, caught Zeller’s short pass and slid behind the line.
The shot fell, giving the Celtics enough breathing room to win out the free throw game in the final minute.
In a predominantly one-sided battle that had everything, even a Jonas Jerebko behind-the-back pass, the Celtics led wire-to-wire to stay tied for third place in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics put on a dazzling passing display in the first half. Isaiah Thomas was slinging one-handed wrap around passes to cutting bigs whenever the Pistons collapsed on his drives. Kelly Olynyk served as point center as he redirected the ball from the high post to find open shooters.
Isaiah Thomas had his obligatory display of multiple circus shots that woke up a dormant crowd.
The Celtics scored 16 of their 19 attempts at the rim in the first half and got out to a 56-36 lead. They outscored the Pistons 14-4 on the fastbreak and 34 to 14 in the paint. The three-headed monster of Thomas, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley each had nine points in the half.
But the inevitable malaise set in. The Celtics maintained a big lead through the third, but the offense accidentally kicked the plug out of the wall.
The Celtics let a 20-point fourth quarter lead crumble down to just seven points with two minutes left. Out of a timeout, Darrun Hilliard missed a decent look at a three to slow the run. Marcus Smart responded with a step back three on the other end to finally put the game to bed.