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Dominating defense late for 5th straight win: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Pistons

Boston’s defense dominated in the fourth quarter, as they ran away from Detroit

Detroit Pistons v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

1. It’s easy to think Boston Celtics players, coaches, staffers or fans aren’t upset that the season series with the Detroit Pistons is over. It was another scrappy effort from the undermanned Pistons before the Celtics eventually pulled away.

In the end, it’s a fifth straight win for Boston, as they pulled into a virtual tie with the Chicago Bulls for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Homecourt advantage is there for the taking, and a further climb up the standings can’t be ruled out. Boston is just 1.5 games out of the second spot in the East with 14 games to play.

2. We could show a bunch of clips of Jayson Tatum running roughshod over the Detroit Pistons. Time and time again, Tatum drove to the rim for easy baskets. But, yes, even though Tatum scored 31 points, we’re going to focus on his playmaking from this one. He had six assists against only one turnovers vs Detroit.

This play is fun in its simplicity. Tatum accepts the trap and even backs the ball out a bit to open up the floor. Then he hits Derrick White for the open three-pointer:

On this one, Tatum makes a quick read. He sees Al Horford has the smaller defender pinned and he goes right over the top to Horford for the easy layup:

Here, Tatum makes the right read in transition, off some good defense from Payton Pritchard to start the play. Also, look at Tatum let out a primal scream of joy after Horford lays the ball in:

3. Marcus Smart has the point guard thing down now. But, most importantly, he’s not forcing the issue of being the playmaker. It’s happening naturally.

This play is a good example of how locked in Smart is right now. There’s not set here. It’s just Smart and Robert Williams being connected and reading the floor before Detroit can set their defense:

For Jaylen Brown to score here, the ball has to be on-time and perfectly placed. It was:

Even though the Celtics offense has improved greatly, it’s still best to get easy offense. As soon as he hits halfcourt, Smart see Tatum has the smaller defender pinned in transition. Good pass, easy bucket:

4. After a couple of months of an eight-man rotation, it seems Ime Udoka has expanded things to nine-men. The primary beneficiaries are Daniel Theis (extra minutes) and Al Horford (extra rest). This is a good sign of Udoka not being rigid. It’s also an example of trusting Theis to execute the team’s defensive scheme without having to change coverages entirely. Horford, Robert Williams and Grant Williams are still getting the bulk of the minutes up front, but 10 minutes or so per game from Theis will help keep those three fresh for the playoffs.

5. Speaking of the bigs, they all did some work against the Pistons, often by working together on big-to-big plays. This is a good find by Daniel Theis to Grant Williams on the duck-in. It’s a nice play-design too, as this action forces the switch of the smaller, weaker defender to defend the basket cut:

Double-big lineups work when your bigs can pass like this to each other:

This isn’t a big-to-big play, but it’s a really nice push by Grant Williams in transition to get Derrick White a layup:

6. Speaking of Derrick White, he had another productive game. This ATO is a good example of what Ime Udoka means when he says White is a “0.5-second player”. That means White gets the ball and goes:

This play is another example of White’s personal pace. After a really nice recovery block, White is off the other way. He uses a hesitation-dribble before hitting the defender with the Eurostep for the layup:

7. It was another weird game for Jaylen Brown. He was missing shots early and didn’t seem overly focused. This was a really bad mistake on defense. You should rarely ever help off the strongside corner, and you should never do it when you are one pass away. That one step is all a player needs to hit a shot:

But Brown picked it up as the game went along. This was the kind of explosive drive that only really Brown can make on the Celtics roster:

It’s good to see Brown get himself out of these early funks the last two games, but it would be nice to see him put together a full 48-minute effort again soon.

8. Late in the game, the Celtics started working the backdoor cuts. First it was Brown sneaking behind the defense as Robert Williams delivered the dime:

On the next trip, Brown functioned as the passer as Marcus Smart cut backdoor for a layup. The play also started with Jayson Tatum again accepting a trap and getting the ball moving:

9. In the fourth quarter, the Celtics locked in on defense more than ever. The Pistons went up 90-88 on a Cade Cunningham three-pointer with 58.9 seconds to play in the third quarter.

Over that final bit of the third quarter and the first 2:34 of the fourth quarter, Boston ripped off an 11-0 run to take a lead they’d never relinquish. But it was far more dominant than that.

The Pistons didn’t hit another field goal until there were 30.2 seconds to play.

That’s over 12 minutes, or essentially an entire quarter, without making a single shot from the field.

Overall, Detroit shot 2-of-15 from the floor in the final quarter. And both of those baskets came after Boston emptied their bench. In addition, the Celtics forced five turnovers in the final frame.

Talk about a turnaround after allowing 90 points through three quarters.

10. It’s KG Day on Sunday! Kevin Garnett will see his #5 raised to the rafters, as Boston hosts the Dallas Mavericks. It was fun to see a host of Celtics legends on Friday night and even more will be in attendance on Sunday afternoon to celebrate Garnett.

And there’s the little matter of a tough opponent too. Dallas and Luka Doncic have delivered some heartbreak to Boston in recent years. This is another good measuring stick of just how far the Celtics, and their defense, have come.

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