If it feels like the Celtics (40-27) and Pistons (18-48) play each other once a week, that’s because they just about have over the past month-plus.
This is the fourth meeting between the two since Feb. 4, and the Pistons have given Boston some trouble in every matchup thus far. The Celtics won 102-93, lost 112-111, then won 113-104 in late February. Detroit is 14th in the East but seems to consistently play Boston tough.
Here’s what to watch for as the Celtics try to notch their fifth straight win, improve their position in the standings and claim the season series:
1. Can the Celtics keep Detroit’s playmakers in check? In the first meeting (without Cade Cunningham), the Celtics held the Pistons to 32.7 percent shooting and put together the kind of defensive game that has been the norm ever since.
When the Pistons pulled off the upset, they shot 46.2 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from 3. Saddiq Bey, who’s doing his best to become the new version of a Celtics-pummeling Khris Middleton, hit five 3’s of his own in that game. The Pistons looked comfortable and in control for much of the way.
The Celtics have struggled with athletic guards at times throughout the year, and Cunningham and Cory Joseph are always on the attack. Limiting their dribble drives, while also keeping tabs on shooters on the wing, will be particularly important in this game.
The Pistons are young and have nothing to lose. Limiting their confidence early could go a long way.
2. Will Jayson Tatum ever miss a shot again? Tatum’s stat lines in the past four games are mind-boggling. He’s averaging 42 points, 6 rebounds and 4.5 assists, while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor, 46.3 percent from 3 and 86.8 percent from the line.
The scoring numbers of obviously impressive, but what’s really stood out is his decision making and poise. He isn’t forcing anything and has struck the perfect balance between patience and relentlessness.
The Pistons have some decent options to throw his way, including Jerami Grant, but it doesn’t really matter who’s on him at this point. If he’s locked in, as he has been every night lately, he’s essentially unguardable.
Kelly Olynyk may not even be able to slow him down.
3. Al Horford has been anything but average. As the Celtics have hit their stride, Horford has been a steady and consistent catalyst.
In March, he’s averaging 13 points, 9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1 steal while shooting 50/50/100. Oh, and he’s doing that while playing 34.5 minutes a game.
Horford has been a menace defensively and a reliable option offensively. He was a bit shaky early in the year, just as the team was, but he’s been outstanding ever since. Bringing him back has worked out even better than expected, and he looks like the player he has the bulk of his career.
The Pistons don't really have anyone to match up with him, especially with Isaiah Stewart out, so Horford has a chance for a big game (again, no disrespect to Kelly).