Fresh off a dramatic victory over the Philadelphia 76ers and returning to Boston for their final game before the All-Star Break, the Boston Celtics avoided a looming let-down game on the second night of a back-to-back, defeating the Detroit Pistons 118-110 and earning themselves some much-needed rest. The game may have taken forever, featuring some questionable officiating and a nerve-wracking fourth-quarter run, but a win is a win and the Celtics will head into their week off with some positive momentum.
Kyrie Irving (knee), Terry Rozier (illness), Aron Baynes (foot) and Robert Williams (illness) were all inactive, but the Celtics still had more than enough firepower to handle their business. Jaylen Brown scored 17 points, Marcus Smart added 16, 5 assists and 2 steals, and Al Horford stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists. For the Pistons, Blake Griffin had a noisy 32 points, but the Pistons struggled to find him any support, shooting just 43% from the field as a team.
The action started quickly for the home team tonight, as the Celtics raced out to a quick 8-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game. It was a veritable track meet early on, and nobody looked sharper than Hayward, who slashed to the rim twice for layups in the early going.
With Irving and Rozier sidelined, Gordon Hayward made his return to the starting lineup, and after spending his last 36 games on the Celtics’ bench, he played like he intended to make his promotion a permanent one. Hayward hit four of his five first-half shots en route to his 18 point night. After his huge 26 point performance against the 76ers the night before — and at least 18 points in three of his previous four games — Hayward really looks to be turning the corner.
The quick start set the stage for one of basketball’s oldest cliches: a game of runs. After an early timeout, the Pistons asserted themselves through the remainder of the first quarter with a run of their own, pushing their lead as high as 11 points in the closing minutes. From there, it was the Celtics’ turn once more, heating back up in the second quarter to lead by as many as nine.
A significant tipping point in the second quarter came from the benches. While the Pistons struggled to generate much offense outside of their starting lineup, the Celtics’ bench — helmed by Brown and Ojeleye, who combined for 18 points in the first half — provided the energy the team needed to reverse course. Late in the second quarter, Ojeleye — making an appearance for the first time in the previous four games — threw down the play of the game, and one of the best dunks we’ve seen from the Celtics this season.
For the Pistons, the Blake Griffin Show was in full force. The newly minted All-Star poured in 20 points in the first half, including four three-pointers — one of which came from practically on top of the midcourt logo. The Celtics simply had no answer for his onslaught; even Marcus Smart and Semi Ojeleye struggled to contain him in the post.
Thankfully, we were all spared the customary third quarter let-down this time around, as they quickly pushed their lead up to 14 behind excellent ball movement and stingy defense. The Celtics finished with 32 assists and eight steals, and it felt as though a disproportionate amount of both came during the third quarter. Smart emerged from his recent shooting slump with gusto — he’d made just 2-of-19 threes in the previous three games — hitting a quartet of much-needed triples late in the third quarter to help fend off the Pistons’ attempts at a rally.
After a ludicrous Smart put-back, the Celtics led the Pistons 89-72 heading into the fourth quarter, and it was all but a formality from there. Brown canned a three-pointer with 10 minutes left in the quarter to extend the lead to 26 points, but the Pistons weren’t quite done yet, launching a colossal 20-2 run to narrow the Boston lead all the way down to 10 points. Thankfully, Al Horford and Marcus Morris were there to stop the bleeding, nailing consecutive threes with less than four minutes remaining and restoring balance to the universe.
The Celtics will now enjoy some rest as we head into the All-Star Break, and return to the court a week from now for an important contest against the Bucks in Milwaukee, Thursday, February 21 on TNT.