Sometimes, all you need is the best player in the game.
With Al Horford nursing a back that’s been on this earth for 36 years, Malcolm Brogdon’s hamstring on the mend, and Jaylen Brown out with a knee contusion from Friday’s blowout of the Nuggets, the Celtics beat the Pistons for the second time in four days in Detroit 117-108.
Undermanned, Jayson Tatum put on another MVP-level performance. Games like this are scattered throughout an 82-game season — scheduled losses after a travel day, complacency against an inferior opponent, second and third units getting some run. That’s when MVP’s win games, too.
Tatum scored 15 points in the third quarter as he helped turn a two-point halftime deficit into a 89-81 lead heading into the final frame and then closed the game with 13 in the clutch. He finished the game with 43 points (14-of-28 from the field, 7-of-15 from 3, 8-of-10 from the line) and ten rebounds.
Grant Williams remained in the starting lineup for the fourth straight game against a physical Detroit team. He was joined by Derrick White and former Piston Blake Griffin. Both teams were coming off the front end of a back-to-back — the Celtics cruising at home against Denver and the Pistons in a dog fight at Madison Square Garden. However, it was the longest tenured Celtic who became Tatum’s running mate in Motown.
In a word, Marcus Smart was everywhere. He came into Little Caesars Arena with 40 assists and just five turnovers over his last four games. Paired with his consistent hardnosed defense, he’s quietly having the best start of his career. On Saturday night, he had 18 points, 10 assists with one turnover, and whopping five steals as he wreaked havoc on Detroit’s young back court.
White chipped in with 12 points and Williams scored 19.
In the Celtics 128-112 win over the Pistons at TD Garden on Wednesday, both teams did what they do well. Detroit hit the glass to the tune of 15 offensive rebounds and 21 second chance points; Boston hit 18-of-46 (39.1%) from behind the arc. Saturday was more of the same. The Celtics started off cold from deep, but ended the game on fire. They again hit 18 threes from behind the arc. Deroit was limited to eleven offensive boards for fifteen points.
The Celtics return home for a Monday tilt against the Oklahoma City Thunder before hitting the road again for a three-game stretch in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Chicago.