The Celtics began their home stand having won their last three games and having recently moved up the standings to capture the #2 spot in the East. Yet the Celtics ended up in a fairly close contest, playing against a Detroit team eager to prove itself as a playoff contender.
With Al Horford back from injury and Avery Bradley still recovering, Coach Stevens decided to keep Jaylen Brown and Jonas Jerebko in the starting lineup after the success a similar unit saw in recent matchups.
The new-look starting lineup wasted no time putting up points as Crowder hit a three to open up the scoring. Isaiah Thomas followed up with this sweet alley-oop to Al Horford, and the Celtics looked like they were rolling.
Al Horford announces his return to the starting lineup with a bang! pic.twitter.com/Hf8kVrSWHk— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 31, 2017
However, despite some early offensive success it wasn’t a great start for the Celtics, who turned over the ball and allowed some easy buckets for the Pistons. The starters struggled somewhat to work as a cohesive unit and gave the Pistons a few too many easy looks inside.
Besides Jae Crowder, the rest of the starters seemed a step slow, so it was no surprise to see the second unit trotted out fairly early. With Marcus Smart at the point the Celtics managed a slight fight back to close out the quarter, and Smart finished the first with a beautiful long ball to beat the buzzer. Marcus’s made bucket gave the Celtics a slender lead at the end of the first with the Celtics leading 26-25.
The second quarter remained close with both teams staying near even in almost every category, but the Celtics held a slight advantage. At around the 7-minute mark Terry Rozier got the crowd and the team going with a nifty steal in the halfcourt and a straightaway layup. The Celtics followed this up with another fastbreak bucket from Kelly Olynyk, at this point running the Pistons all over the court.
Seemingly seeking to push the pace of the game, Stevens ran with a three-guard unit after subbing Isaiah back into the game to join Smart and Rozier. Unfortunately the breakneck speed of this unit resulted in some sloppy play, and with the Celtics lead in doubt Stevens called a timeout.
Assisted in part by some poor shooting from Detroit, the Celtics were able to extend their lead as the first half came to a close. Finishing the half with a made three from Al Horford, the Celtics hit 7 of 15 shots from three-point range, while the Pistons managed only a single three-pointer in the first half after 15 attempts. Boston held an 8-point lead at the end of half with the scores at 54-46.
As the second half started it was clear the Pistons were intent on pushing back with some pace of their own, but the Celtics proved they’re not to be out-hustled. A loose ball save from Jae Crowder epitomised the Celtics seemingly rediscovered identity as the hardest working team in the NBA as Boston countered everything Detroit could muster.
Battling for rebounds and fighting for possessions the Celtics showed a lot of grit and drive in the third quarter. Boston worked the ball to the open man on the offensive end and chased the Pistons off of the three-point line on the defensive end. Crowder was spectacular all game long, but he particularly came alive in the third, leading Celtics scorers by the end of the quarter with 18 points and 6 rebounds, providing a huge lift to the team on both ends of the floor.
Plays like this full-court pass from Marcus to Jae show just how far ahead of the Pistons the Celtics were able to push in the third quarter when they figuratively and literally outran their opponent.
Amir with the block, Marcus with the pinpoint pass and Jae with the finish! pic.twitter.com/QB00jDk9Yr— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 31, 2017
As the final frame began, the Celtics held a 9-point lead with the scores at 79-70. Having controlled the tempo on the court all game long, the Celtics would need to maintain their intensity to get the win.
A 9-2 run from Detroit eroded Boston’s hard-fought lead and left the fourth quarter a back-and-forth battle, as the Celtics struggled to contain Detroit’s offense. Detroit continued to battle their way back into the game, and after putting up points in a hurry the scores were tied at 88 as the final frame neared the halfway mark.
Isaiah sought to do his thing in the fourth and managed some quick buckets to keep the Celtics afloat. But after IT was called for a questionable shooting foul, Detroit pulled ahead with some easy points from the line. Fired up and refusing to back down, Isaiah went straight back at Detroit’s defense on the next possession and pulled off a three-point play of his own.
Isaiah Thomas with the big and-one bucket! pic.twitter.com/msQqg0PaKq— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 31, 2017
As the clock wound down to the final buzzer, both teams fought for every advantage in a game that more and more looked like it could go either way. Of course, the Pistons don’t have the NBA’s leading fourth-quarter scorer on their roster, and another late-game explosion from Isaiah kept the Celtics in the lead down the stretch.
Devastating the team of his own namesake, Isaiah Thomas went on the type of tear that has almost come to be expected from him this season. The King in the Fourth lived up to his new moniker as he piled up points in the final frame and helped the Celtics to put away the Pistons.
With a minute left the Celtics looked like they were going to give away the game as some last-minute mistakes gave Detroit some hope for an upset. But, after some strong shooting from the line by none other than Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics were able to escape with the win 113-109.
Isaiah finished the game with 41 points, and Crowder scored 21 while Smart and Horford both finished the game with 13 points. Jerebko and Brown both struggled to impact the game offensively, but Jerebko did manage to pull down 10 rebounds. Overall it was a good team effort from the Celtics and another strong showing from Isaiah Thomas, which was exactly what the team needed before their next game against the Raptors.