The Detroit Pistons have been inconsistent the past few years: sometimes pretty great, occasionally awful, often kinda meh. But they’ve been good in 2017-18, second place in the East behind the Boston Celtics. Thanks to Andre Drummond’s all-around improvements, the excellent year Tobias Harris is having and Avery Bradley (miss u buddy) playing 2-guard better than anyone the Pistons have had since Rip Hamilton, they might be legit. They sure as hell looked it tonight, coming out on top against the Cs despite both squads’ high-octane shooting.
THE GAME FLOW
After three years, the Pistons finally look like a Stan Van Gundy team: tough defense, plays centered around a 1-5 pick and roll for drives and lobs, shooters always threatening on the arc. This style confounded the Celtics early. Detroit built a lead that sometimes ballooned to double digits and hovered around 8 for the whole first quarter. Every starter contributed on both ends, with Drummond the standout, collecting 10 rebounds in the same time it takes the average Celtic to collect 2 or 3. (Also 4 assists—adding passing to his game has been huge for the squad.) Only Kyrie Irving’s drives truly confounded the Pistons.
Q2 began with Detroit ahead 8, and Brad Stevens turned to the bench to produce points for Boston alongside Kyrie. Which they did: Semi Ojeleye, Daniel Theis and Aron Baynes all made good offensive plays, with Theis faring best (7 points). But the Pistons offense was red-hot for the entire first half—around 63 percent at halftime from the floor and an even more remarkable 53 percent from deep—with Harris leading the charge to score 15. The Celtics had no answer for their shots despite shooting almost as well (about 50 percent in both categories for the half). Even the friggin’ rookie Luke Kennard threw in 7 points on the Cs, which is just, I mean, damn. (Uncharacteristic woes at the free-throw line—4 for 11—didn’t help.)
Kyrie kept forging ahead, and his efforts, coupled by a pair of treys from Marcus Smart, got the Celtics within three at the half. If the home squad hoped to come out ahead in this contest, Detroit’s ridiculous shooting would have to cool off, as it was at least somewhat contingent on luck, but Boston also needed to at least attempt to keep Drummond out of the paint, and that’s no easy feat.
Shooting evened out almost entirely in Q3 between the two squads. But the Pistons’ existing lead kept them in the driver’s seat, as Harris continued bombing from the field for 29 points and Drummond rumbled his way to 13 points, 17 boards and 2 more dimes (for 6 total at Q3’s end). Reggie Jackson, a massively polarizing player among NBA Twitter, didn’t shoot often but did so with deadeye accuracy. It wasn’t until around the frame’s 4-minute mark that the Celtics’ threats translated into promises and started tying the game. Getting to the line and actually sinking free throws ended up being a big help (who’d have thunk it, amirite), and Kyrie, Smart and Al Horford shot the squads to an 86-86 tie with just 12 minutes left in the game.
The war of attrition continued right after the whistle blew for this matchup’s final quarter, and at this point, you have to concede that this’ll be about who gets the best looks and the right bounces by the end. Tobias Harris continued to get the right looks and bounces on his way to 31 points for the game, but showed undeniable proficiency from every part of the court that went beyond luck. Ish Smith, who hadn’t played a ton in the earlier quarters, presented a speed problem for the Cs’ backcourt defenders. On Boston’s side, Kyrie started to go cold…though SMARF went boiling hot, hitting three more triples while maintaining his duties as a defensive bruiser and second-unit playmaker.
Things got a little weird in the last three minutes of the game. Drummond had, through old-school big man dominance evidenced in a pair of dunk 3-point plays, started to bring Detroit into what could be a safe winning distance, with an 8-point lead of 110-108. Smart got another unbelievable triple from about 30 feet and Kyrie benefited from a questionable call to hit some FTs, but Horford’s defense faltered against Drummond and Jackson, and Drummond didn’t fall prey to hack-a as he once did (our man shoots 60 percent from the stripe this year!). Aside from poor ball control (17 turnovers to the Pistons’ 8) the Celtics weren’t bad by any means until some lazy goofs in the final frame—the Pistons were simply better. As such, they took the win with a 118-108 final score.
THE HOT AND THE NOT
Hot: SMARF, good work by the bench in general, strong shooting from the whole squad.
Not: Losing the rebounding battle despite being ahead in that metric for much of the contest, horrific turnovers, Horford’s poor matchup against Andre Drummond.
Look upon SMARF’s works, ye mighty, and despair:
Ojeleye and Terry Rozier collaborating to show SAFETY FIRST, THEN TEAMWORK as an example of how good the Boston bench was tonight: