After another trade deadline passed with nothing but tumbleweeds passing through Boston followed by a tough loss against division rivals the Toronto Raptors, the Celtics were eager to prove they are still among the East’s elite.
Before the game began the team had already spoken about the need to move the ball more and rebound more aggressively. So when play started it became clear that the Celtics were going to practice what they preached as the team’s bigs, particularly Amir Johnson came in with a mindset to box out opponents and grab every available rebound. What’s more the ball flew around the court as the team worked together to make the extra pass and find the open man.
With a strong start by the Celtics it was no surprise when Stan Van Gundy called an early timeout after Jaylen Brown sauntered into the lane for an all-too-easy layup. After the timeout the Pistons responded with improved offensive execution and went on a short 5-0 run.
But the Celtics continued to control the speed of the game, forcing turnovers on the defensive end and running the floor with pace and precision on the offensive end. The first quarter ended with the Celtics up 27-23, and rookie Jaylen Brown scoring 7 points off just 4 attempts.
The second quarter saw more of the Celtics’ young guns stepping up as Terry Rozier sunk an impressive array of shots and Marcus Smart outmuscled the opposition on the defensive end. While Isaiah Thomas, who briefly disappeared to the locker room during the first quarter, came back into the game to go on his own scoring run.
But the Pistons were able to answer back for the most part with Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope both playing with a lot of energy. Meanwhile, Jonas Jerebko struggled against his greatest rival – his medically mandated facemask – and Jae Crowder struggled to make an impact on offense in the first half, but did provide some characteristically tough defense.
The Celtics maintained their lead throughout the second and looked to be going to the locker room with a good margin after Isaiah managed 16 points in the half. Yet a buzzer beating three-pointer from Marcus Morris meant the scores were a little closer at the halftime break but with the Celtics still leading the Pistons 54-50.
The halftime break saw Richard ‘Rip’ Hamilton give a well-worded and highly appreciative speech as a part of his jersey retirement ceremony. The former Piston spoke about the help and support he received from friends, family and the Detroit Pistons basketball franchise and the crowd loved every minute.
After the extended break the Celtics came back rested and ready, opening the third quarter with an 8-0 run and taking a double-digit lead. Amir Johnson did everything he could to control Detroit’s big man Andre Drummond and was a pretty successful defensive stopper. But Drummond proved to be his own worst enemy when he had his own ‘Shaqtin a fool’ moment and missed an open dunk allowing Amir to pick up the easy rebound – his 9th.
Unable to capitalise on the Pistons’ struggles Boston went through a scoring drought for much of third with Isaiah being essentially the Celtics’ sole offensive weapon. Detroit’s defense took away the high pick-and-roll play that had seen success for the Celtics in the first half and Boston looked a little lost as the second half pressed on.
Rozier provided a desperately needed spark off the bench and the Celtics were able to finish the third in front, leading the Pistons 79-74.
The fourth quarter saw the Celtics step up their defensive intensity as Marcus Smart started the final frame with an almighty steal. But Boston’s offensive woes continued as the team couldn’t buy a bucket early in the fourth and the Pistons were able to work their way back into the game.
After some fairly average basketball from the Celtics the scores were tied at the halfway mark of the final quarter. Seeking to avoid a similar collapse to their recent loss against Toronto the Celtics dug deep down the stretch.
Several calls went the Pistons way late in the game and if they’d be able to hit their free-throws with consistency Detroit would have put the Celtics away easily. Eventually the Pistons did find their form from the free-throw line and ended up taking a late-game lead.
With a minute left in the final frame the Pistons had taken a one-point lead and what looked like a broken play from the Celtics led to a big-time bucket from Jaylen Brown. Sinking the three-pointer and getting the foul, Brown’s bucket changed the Celtics fortunes. The rookie was unable to convert the four-point play but Marcus Smart got involved in grabbing the rebound and ended up going to the line himself where he converted both buckets and extended the Celtics lead with seconds left on the clock.
This last-minute sequence saved the Celtics from another loss against a conference rival and possible playoff matchup. The Celtics had better luck from the line than their opponents and Isaiah’s consistent free-throw shooting allowed Boston to close-out the game.
Despite the near collapse in the second half the Celtics were able to escape Detroit with the win 104-98. Boston’s young players were extremely impactful in this close contest and the Celtics shared the ball and kept everyone involved. Thomas finished with 33 points, Crowder got the double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds along with 5 assists, Marcus Smart had 14 points and 5 rebounds while Rozier and Brown both finished with 13 points each as well as 7 rebounds between them. Amir Johnson and Al Horford only managed 4 points each but both Boston’s big men were able to pull down 9 rebounds a piece as well. All in all, despite the late-game scare it was a good team win on the road.