It sure would be nice if the Boston Celtics could win a basketball game at the start of this NBA season’s stretch run, right? Wow! They did! That ruled. But seriously: The fanbase really needed this W, after seeing our heroes limp into the All-Star break like old alcoholics checking into the same SRO hotel all at once, and the Cs secured it—beating a solid team that always gives them a hard time.
THE GAME FLOW
The Celtics defense wilted into putrefaction in their final game against the Clippers before All-Star Weekend; they were absolutely murdered. Things didn’t look that much better in the first few minutes of this game. At first, the new Pistons twin-towers tandem of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond used a combination of their maniacal athleticism and adept playmaking to get an early edge on the Celtics, with all the pre-All Star problems readily apparent: discombobulated defense, logy offense, turnovers galore (OK, fine, that’s a problem even when they’re good) and a severe lack of combat muscles stemming from the absence of Marcus Smart.
Though the Pistons didn’t relinquish the lead they established (after about two minutes of gameplay) at any time during the first quarter, the Celtics recovered from the right hook Detroit launched and showed life that hadn’t been apparent since the Wizards game two weeks ago. Jayson Tatum in particular seemed to shake off a considerable amount of rust, scoring eight quick points, Kyrie Irving was his usual third-eye-equipped self and SMARF, hungry to prove himself after weeks of injury sidelining and trade rumors, nailed two threes and made some solid defensive plays. All the same, Detroit led 28-23 at the frame’s end.
Boston continued to progress from their initial difficulties and regain teamwide confidence on both ends of the floor, and especially on defense—which, given how much D has been their bread-and-butter, is extremely very goddamn good. Griffin fell into a shooting slump, which helped, but the Celtics were visibly engaged on defense in a way they hadn’t been, and taking the time to pick better spots and take better shots on offense. (A Semi Ojeleye defensive possession on Andre Drummond particularly comes to mind—he locked the Pistons big man down hard enough to have Drummond wallop the rookie a bit out of frustration.)
Made three-pointers are always a good thing, and the Celtics managing to nail 10 of them before halftime was a better thing. But over the last five minutes of Q2 they had a 21-5 run facilitated as much by furious defensive pressure as those threes, which allowed them to take control of the contest. When halftime arrived after back-and-forth treys by Daniel Theis on Boston’s end and Ish Smith on Detroit’s, Boston had asserted a 61-49 lead bigger than any they’d seen in several weeks.
God, that’s a relief.
Boston lost too many games heading into the break to take a lead for granted as the third quarter began. And they didn’t, fortunately—at least not at first, storming back in mostly on the legs of the bench. Theis, in particular, was on fire, leading the team in scoring for much of the game, which is no small feat for an NBA neophyte whom many consider a defensive specialist. Smart and Greg Monroe (aka Greg aka MOOSE) showed us yet again how their offensive value goes beyond scoring points—or, in SMARF’s case, beyond the failure to do so—by setting hard screens, passing out of tough spots to the open man and keeping plays alive when they seemed dead.
The Pistons made a bit of a run thanks to Smith’s shooting and speed, Griffin’s ability to get to the free-throw line and solid support from Reggie Bullock and the recently acquired James Ennis. But Brad Stevens locked his Celtics squad into a gameplan of hassling the hell out of Blake—making his bad shooting night even worse, baiting him into offensive fouls—in a manner that clearly rattled the new Detroit star, reinforcing his perhaps-unfair-but-kinda-true reputation as a prima donna.
As the third quarter bled into the game’s final frame, it became increasingly clear that the Pistons were not up for this shit. They scored five points in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter as a team. On Boston’s side SMARF, Marcus Morris, Theis, Kyrie and Tatum basically got whatever they wanted. Not a game for pyrotechnics by any one player (well, except Theis, inexplicably) but a team effort exemplified by the Cs practicing all their best habits: making the extra pass from an open good shot to get to a dude who can make a better shot, team defense, control of the boards and three-point shooting. Boston climbed all the way to a 20-point lead at around the 6:00 mark, and though Smith, Bullock and Drummond didn’t give up entirely, the Pistons were virtually done with three minutes of game time to go and officially done three minutes later.
Beating Detroit on their home floor 110-98, when the Motor City squad has looked quite strong with Griffin, is good. Doing it after all dealing with all the crap before the break, by playing up to every strength, showing few of their weaknesses and getting visibly better over the course of the game, is much better. Nice work, fellas.
HOT ISH: The whole bench, which scored more than 60 points.
NOT ISH: Al Horford didn’t look great on offense, and his box score looks even worse. But defensively he put in plenty of work against Griffin and contributed to the latter’s horrid night.
The Jaylen/Jayson tandem working together for a fastbreak transition dash to the rim:
AAAAAND last but not least, Tatum dropping it one-handed from a Theis steal and pass, as a bullet in Detroit’s head: