Tristan Thompson shook his hands angry at himself as a late rebound bounced over his head on the offensive end. Marcus Smart had just completed a stop by sealing Mason Plumlee off the boards on the other end with Boston overcoming a 21-point deficit. Thompson raced back and the ball landed in his hands when he reached the opposite rim.
It didn’t take long to get the ball back for either team after they lost it. Thompson was soon setting a pair of screens for Jayson Tatum to bury two threes to put the Celtics ahead with three minutes remaining.
The Pistons largely funneled the ball away from him and Jaylen Brown in the following four minutes until the buzzer. Daniel Theis and Smart opened Tatum with a flare screen for an open corner three that Tatum bricked. Smart’s follow off Theis’ offensive rebound hit the front of the rim too, extending Boston’s drought to 0-for-9 to close the night. Detroit held on 96-93.
Turnovers and fierce rebounding battles under the net defined one of the fastest-paced games of the NBA season. It didn’t have the highest flow or efficiency, but an early 21-point Pistons lead disappeared into a crunch time possession after Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led the Celtics back with 25 points each through 3.5 quarters.
Brown scrambled to control his dribble and lost a ball out of bounds to open the game. Daniel Theis tossed away a pass. Jayson Tatum ran into a Mason Plumlee brick wall block, before Saddiq Bey dove on another loose ball that Tristan Thompson lost.
The Celtics started their first trip to Detroit in over two years against a winless and hurt Pistons team throwing the ball away 10 times. Boston hadn’t defended anywhere close to the top half of the league through five games, and that allowed Derrick Rose to get into the lane and create an early kick-out three for Jerami Grant. Detroit entered the night leading the NBA in shots through a combination of pace, urgency and offensive rebounding.
That showed on a 23-5 first quarter run that sent Brad Stevens into a finger-wagging frenzy. As the Pistons scored their 12th point in the paint, subs flurried in off the Boston bench as far down the rotation as Carsen Edwards.
Jeff Teague added a three and a floater to the scoreboard, but only managed to get a hand on a pass that made its way to Rose for a fadeaway leaning deep two. Isaiah Stewart barreled into the front court for a put back, before a Robert Williams pass from above the arc fell into Marcus Smart’s hands through the defense, only to end in a missed layup.
While the Celtics went smaller with three guards and Grant Williams at the four into the second, Detroit remained fast. They raced up the floor and hit Svi Mykhailiuk for back-to-back threes, before Rose smashed through Boston’s interior again to increase the lead at 21.
When the Celtics started stringing together stops, Teague found Grant Williams and Theis in the lane to begin breaking down the massive lead. Smart snuck around Jerami Grant’s back and hit Tatum in stride for two, then Theis raced Mykhailiuk to the other end of the floor and smacked his layup attempt off the basket.
Tatum overshot a reverse layup and Grant dunked a hard drive in Theis’ face in a stretch emblematic of the early game. He then burst by Jaylen Brown reaching and Tristan Thompson too slow in the lane for a three-point play and returned the next time down for two more free throws.
The game transitioned into a rare flow, with the officials swallowing whistles on Jaylen Brown triple-stepping to the rim in transition, Grant barreling into Smart at the elbow before drilling a pull up and Rose getting tied up by Smart inside before burying a layup. Brown and Tatum hit shots inside, and Teague ran out for two after stripping Rose, but hard drives and 10 Celtics turnovers kept Detroit ahead by 15 at halftime.
Brown burst out of the locker room with his nose on the ball. Both hit jumpers to open the third frame, Brown stuffed Grant at the rim before getting mistaken for Michael Jordan as he darted from his man to strip Josh Jackson as he struggled on the ball. Both stops led to baskets, with Smart helping to even the turnover differential 12-12 with a steal on Hayes.
Tatum added 14 points with a lockdown defensive effort to close the quarter as he and Brown combined to shoot 20-for-26 between the end of the first and the start of the fourth. Tatum scored on four straight possessions to end the fourth, catching an errant Rose pass in the lane and raced to the rim after Smart faked a transition three and slid a pass to a trailing Tatum toward the rim.
Stevens courted Boston’s five best players to start the year — Smart, Tatum, Brown, Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams III — to take Boston’s first lead since going down by 21 early in the year. It didn’t last long when Williams stumbled to the floor chasing a loose ball, struggled to get up and promptly exited the game struggling with his lower left leg.
Brown — who reached 59% from the field this season through the third — stormed into the fourth with seven straight points on a three then two downhill drives. A fourth make on a lefty slam got erased by the shot clock, and Mykhailiuk flushed his third three to retake the lead for Detroit.
The Pistons trailed 93-90 into the final two minutes as their misses piled up, but they successfully funneled the ball out of Tatum and Brown’s hands around the rim into botched open threes by Smart and Grant. Detroit took the lead back on a Rose layup as they held Boston scoreless for over three minutes.
That drought reached another minute until the buzzer, when Theis freed Brown for an open pull-up three down 96-93 that also fell short to send the Celtics to 3-3.