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Celtics begin final stretch on the road against the Pistons

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The Celtics look to get back on track as they travel to Detroit for the 3rd and final game against the Pistons.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics are finally back and ready to get to work after a week off for the All Star break. The Celtics will begin their stretch run with their 3rd and final game against the Detroit Pistons. The Celtics are 1-1 against the Pistons this season so far with each team winning on the road. The Celtics won 91-81 in Detroit in December but lost 118-108 in Boston in November.

The Pistons team that the Celtics will face in this game is very different from the team they faced in November and December. The Pistons were very busy at the trade deadline, sending Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and Boban Marjanovic to the Clippers for Blake Griffin. They also signed Dwight Buycks, who was one of their 2 way players. Finally they traded Willie Reed for Jameer Nelson and signed James Ennis.

The Celtics didn’t make a move at the trade deadline, but they are expecting a boost from the return of Marcus Smart who had missed a couple of weeks with a laceration on his hand. Over that span, the Celtics’ defense became pretty much nonexistent and the Celtics went 5-5 in their last 10 games, losing the last 3 before the break.

Smart was cleared to play and practiced on Wednesday but sat out Thursday’s practice with a thigh bruise that he suffered in Wednesday’s practice. He traveled with the team and is expected to play in this game. Shane Larkin went through a light practice on Thursday and traveled with the team but is listed as out for this game. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford sat out Thursday’s practice for rest after playing in the All Star game but should be good to go in this game.

The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games and have lost their last 3 games before the All Star break. They are 19-8 on the road. The Pistons won their last game going into the All Star break and are 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 19-12 at home. The Celtics have slipped to 2nd in the East, 2 games behind the Raptors, who are 9-1 in their last 10 games. The Pistons are 9th in the East, 1.5 games out of 8th place.

Brad Stevens has promised that there will be some changes to his rotations in these games after the break and so it’s possible that he may change up the starters but I’m thinking it may be more of a change to his substitutions and possibly keeping a starter or two on the court with the second unit. The starting five with Aron Baynes at center has a +13.5 net rating over 305 minutes together, and even more important, they have a 95.2 defensive rating. I’m going to guess that the same 5 will start in this game, but I could be wrong.

Probable Celtics Starters

PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Aron Baynes

Celtics Reserves
Shane Larkin
Abdel Nader
Semi Ojeleye
Daniel Theis
Guerschon Yabusele
Terry Rozier
Marcus Smart
Marcus Morris
Greg Monroe

Injuries
Shane Larkin (knee) out
Marcus Smart (thigh) probable
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Pistons Starters

PG: Ish Smith
SG: Reggie Bullock
SF: Stanley Johnson
PF: Blake Griffin
C: Andre Drummond

Pistons Reserves
Dwight Buycks
Henry Ellenson
James Ennis
Langston Galloway
Luke Kennard
Eric Moreland
Jameer Nelson
Anthony Tolliver

Injuries
Jon Leuer (ankle) out
Reggie Jackson (ankle) out
Reggie Bullock (illness) probable

Two Way Players
Reggie Hearn
Kay Felder

Head Coach
Stan VanGundy

Key Matchups

Aron Baynes vs Andre Drummond
In the first game between these two teams, Drummond had 26 points on 10-12 shooting, 22 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals. Marcus Morris started that game and played twice as many minutes as Baynes. In their 2nd meeting, Baynes started and covered Baynes who had just 6 points and 15 rebounds. It seems like a smart move to start Baynes once again. Drummond is averaging 15.1 points, 15.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 steals.

Al Horford vs Blake Griffin
With Baynes starting at center, Al Horford will be guarding the Pistons’ new star, Blake Griffin, who is averaging 22.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 5.6 assists. Slowing Griffin down will go a long ways towards slowing the Pistons.

Honorable Mention
Kyrie Irving vs Ish Smith
With Reggie Jackson still out with an ankle injury Ish Smith has stepped up for the Pistons and is doing a good job of running the offense. He is averaging 10.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. Kyrie needs to come out strong and slow down Smith as well as running the Celtics offense efficiently.

Keys to the Game
Defense- Defense wins games and the Celtics have built their winning record based on their defense. The Celtics are still ranked first with a defensive rating of 100.9 but this number has been slowly climbing as the Celtics have let their defense slip somewhat in recent games. The return of Marcus Smart should help their defense get back on track. The Pistons are 10th with a defensive rating of 105.0. The Celtics have to get back to making defense a priority.

Rebound - Rebounding takes effort and desire. The Celtics will need both in order to beat front line of the Pistons to the rebounds. The Celtics are 11th with 44.3 rebounds per game. The Pistons are 18th with 42.9 rebounds per game. The Celtics have to put out the effort to keep the Pistons off the boards (especially Andre Drummond).

Be Aggressive - The Celtics need to be aggressive in going for loose balls, rebounding and defending. They also have to be aggressive in going to the basket and not settle for threes especially if they aren’t falling . Good things happen when they get inside. They have to be hungry and play like the team that wants it more. They let their effort slip in the games before the break and hopefully they can get their effort and aggressiveness back in this game.

Play 48 Minutes - The Celtics have started off slowly at times and then have to play extra hard to catch up. At other times they get off to a big lead and then let up and let the other team back into the game. The Pistons are tied with the Celtics for the most comeback wins of 10 points or more. The Celtics can’t let up, even if they get a big lead because the Pistons are very good at coming back from big deficits also.

X-Factors
Road Game - The Celtics are starting out after the break on the road. It is easy to get distracted on the road, especially for younger players. The Celtics need to keep their focus and play their game and not let the hostile crowd, the travel, and the distractions of playing on the road affect their play. The Pistons will have a home advantage that the Celtics will have to focus on overcoming.

Marcus Smart - Marcus Smart will hopefully return for this game. The defense slipped considerably during his absence. He brings energy off the bench and anchors the defense. He also helps the rebounding in that he leads all guards and all players under 6’6” in box outs. His return should give the Celtics a much needed boost.

New Pistons Lineups - The Pistons are all new since the Celtics last played them. There haven’t been a lot of games to scout to prepare for their new players and their new play book. Hopefully Brad Stevens has done his homework and will be ready for whatever Stan VanGundy throws at him.