Facing off for the second time this season, the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons are scheduled to go head-to-head on Saturday night, in what will be a back-to-back for both teams. The Celtics are coming off arguably their most impressive victory of the season thus far, having dispatched the Denver Nuggets, while the Pistons will be licking their wounds after being defeated by the New York Knicks.
However, those games are now in the past, and tonight’s game marks a fresh challenge for both parties. As such, it’s time to explore some ways in which Boston can look to gain an advantage over the Pistons. Here are my 3 tickets to triumph for Saturday’s contest.
Unleash a rack attack
In their last meeting which occurred on November 9, the Celtics punished the Pistons' rim defense, converting 79.2% of their looks on 19-of-24 shooting (excluding garbage time minutes). Coming into tonight’s game, Boston should look to replicate this part of their game plan.
Against the Knicks on Friday night, Detroit allowed New York to convert 66.7% of their looks within four feet of the basket, and given they’re ranked 18th in the NBA for protecting the rim, it appears this may be a flaw Boston should look to exploit for the second time in a week.
With shooters like Sam Hauser, Grant Williams, and Payton Pritchard all showing a willingness to attack down low, and Joe Mazzulla happy to draw up plays and/or actions to facilitate immense rim pressure, pounding the paint projects to be an integral part of the game plan. And that’s before the Celtics even get into their drive-and-kick bag of tricks which have punished teams to start the new basketball year.
Avoid the corner 3
For all of the things that Detroit needs to improve on, defending the corner 3 is not one of them. In fact, they’re 2nd in the NBA for limiting opponents' success rate from one of the most favorable areas on a basketball court.
Instead, opting to attack close-outs and drive out of the corners could be a good wrinkle into the Celtics' gameplan, taking a leaf out of Romeo Langford’s playbook by engaging the defense along the baseline, before hitting a late cutter who’s slashing towards the rim.
Of course, the Celtics could just decide that their offense is simply too good to stop and force Detroit into proving their credentials as an elite corner 3 defensive team. Either way, finding more favorable ways to score is probably the better bet in this instance.
Take advantage of Cunningham’s absence
The Pistons might have a plethora of young and impressive talent, but it’s clear that Cade Cunningham is their crown jewel. As such, Boston should look to take full advantage of the floor general's absence on Saturday evening, by turning up the pressure on their perimeter defense.
If the Celtics can force Detroit into a half-court game, and limit their ability to penetrate the perimeter, the Pistons are going to struggle to find a groove with their offense. Without Cunningham on the floor, Jalen Duran and Saddiq Bey are probably the two biggest threat’s to watch out for — in terms of how the Celtics defend and what teams are using to punish them.
Not having Cunningham to worry about will allow Boston to hone in on the other potential difference-makes, without the worry of being beaten off the dribble or caught out with a pinpoint pass. Of course, this is the NBA, so there is talent across the entire Piston’s roster, however, Cunningham not being available for the contest makes things that little bit easier for the Celtics.
A win on Saturday will put Boston into double-digits for victories this season and will ensure their winning streak remains alive. Sure, the Pistons are a tough opponent in terms of physicality and bullishness, but the talent void should be visible, and the Celtics appear to be more clinical in their approach this season.
As such, I’m expecting Boston to win tonight, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the game goes down to the wire, especially given both teams will be tired following tough games just 24 hours ago.