This was always going to be a tough matchup – what else would you would expect from two well-coached, brilliantly constructed teams that both have plenty to prove this season in a competitive Eastern Conference?
While some around the league might not consider a contest between the two teams leading the East a clash of the titans, personally I’d been looking forward to this matchup. I had a strong suspicion before this season began that the Pistons would be a good team this year and they’ve played some great basketball to start their season.
The Pistons have a couple of players that could be described as fringe all-stars, backed up by some burgeoning young talent and supported by well-suited carefully selected role players. Really they have a roster that seems scarily similar to the ones that Brad Stevens went with for the last couple of seasons, including the fact that the Pistons now count former Celtics stalwart Avery Bradley among their numbers.
It was great to see AB – who has always seemed like a genuinely good human being – back in the Garden. Although my initial nostalgia was also tinged with concern that the former Celtic would be locking-up Kyrie all night while taking tough shots for his own team. In short, I was afraid Avery would be back with a vengeance.
The opening minutes of the game did little to allay my fears as the Pistons got off to an early lead predicated by strong defense and fastbreak offense – a style that seemed eerily familiar. An early timeout from Stevens saw the Celtics return to the floor with a renewed focus. But the Pistons were able to maintain their lead and stay in control of the game, at least in part on the back of the improved passing and playmaking of – you guessed it – Avery Bradley who Stan Van Gundy seems to be using much more as a facilitator on offense.
In his own version of a revenge game Aron Baynes hit the court early for the Celtics and provided some strong defense down low opening things up for the Celtics and helping to create second-chance opportunities for his teammates. Generally it was the Celtics defense that kept them in this game during what was a fairly average opening quarter.
However this nice block from Jayson Tatum against Avery was a good reminder to Celtics fans that this team’s future right now is brighter than ever before.
Yet despite some good plays from both teams the first quarter belonged to the Pistons who led 31-23 going to the break.
The second quarter saw Brad start with an all-grit lineup including Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis. But he also left Kyrie on the floor to add some extra offense to what was otherwise a defensively loaded group.
The Kyrie-and-D crew proved effective at getting the Celtics back into the game as they quickly eroded the Detroit’s lead making for a close contest for much of the first half of the second quarter.
Ojeleye gets for the rebound and Rozier splashes a 3-pointer on the other end! pic.twitter.com/bCxT9OhX3W— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 28, 2017
Marcus Morris also saw some minutes against his former team during the second quarter in what I suppose was also a revenge game for Mook but it was Daniel Theis who played like a man possessed. The German import made the most of his minutes, taking the Detroit defenders by surprise and putting up a quick 7 points in only 5 minutes of play.
A confidence-infused Marcus Smart found his form as the second half drew to a close and scored back-to-back threes. Unfortunately a, perhaps over-confident, Smart then lost the ball to Bradley on the very next play and followed this up by missing two out of two free throws at the line shortly thereafter. Just Marcus being Marcus, I guess
After some back-and forth basketball the first half came to an end with the scores close but the Pistons still in the lead 60-57. Tobias Harris had 15 points and Andre Drummond had 12 points to go along with his 15 rebounds (yes, that’s right 15 rebounds before the second half!). On the Celtics side of things Kyire Irving had put up 14 points and no other Celtic had scored in double-digits. Interestingly Detroit and Boston were tied in rebounds (at 18 apiece) but while the Pistons had relied almost entirely on their big man the Celtics achieved the same result by rebounding as a team.
The start of the second half saw both teams continue to battle it out, with Detroit holding a small lead for most of the quarter. Jayson Tatum proved instrumental in keeping the Celtics competitive, not only knocking down his own shots but getting the ball to open teammates too.
But in a game that had been all about hustle, grit and tenacity it should surprise no one that Marcus Smart was a decisive factor in the Celtics third quarter comeback. Marcus made a tough three-point shot and then followed this up with some characteristically strong defense and a driving layup that tied the score at 77-77 with under five minutes left in the third. Just Marcus being Marcus, I guess.
The remaining minutes of the third continued to be hotly contested with both sides hustling to try to capture the lead. The back-and-forth play continued and saw the third quarter ending with the scores all tied up at 86-86.
It had been a game of adjustments with Coach Brad and SVG both trying to outthink one another. The Celtics seemed to be unable or uninterested in stopping Tobias Harris from scoring or Andre Drummond from rebounding and countered with a team effort that saw the scores remain close despite the high output from the Pistons starters.
Apparently Al Horford’s pep talks are the best in basketball because Smart yet again hit back to back three-point shots to give the Celtics a slim lead with under five minutes remaining in the game. The Pistons pushed back though with Harris and Drummond hitting some important shots to give Detroit the late-game lead.
As the final buzzer approached the Pistons had edged ahead of the Celtics. Kyrie was excellently defended and kept relatively in-check throughout the game effectively eliminating Boston’s main offensive output (he still finished with 18 but had a pretty inefficient shooting night overall).
In the end, despite some admirable attempts by Smart and Tatum who both pulled off some late-game makes, the Pistons managed to out-hustle the Celtics and get the win 118-108. A disappointing loss in a tough contest against a team the Celtics will almost certainly see during the playoffs. With both teams having such similar styles it will be interesting to see how this rivalry at the top of the Eastern Conference develops – but for now at least the advantage has gone to the Pistons.