Final, Pistons 103-88: The Celtics had just about convinced everybody that they were past this. A six-game win streak had erased most of the memories from the first two months of the season, and even finishing their five-game homestand with two losses was somewhat understandable. One of those was the emotional reunion between Doc Rivers and his son, Hornets guard Austin Rivers, while the other was a tough matchup with the Bulls.
This one was not as easy to dismiss, though. This was the Pistons.
For the second time this season, the Pistons (15-25) defeated the Celtics (20-20), who fell to .500 and lost some more ground in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Kevin Garnett and Courtney Lee tied for the team lead with 16 points each, and Jeff Green had 15 points off the bench, but the Celtics’ offense as a whole looked flat. Rajon Rondo actually came close to notching an ignominious quadruple-double with eight points, 15 assists, nine rebounds and nine turnovers.
Six Detroit players scored at least 14 points each, led by rookie Andre Drummond, who scored 16 points. Drummond’s production included four alley-oop finishes, and he threw in seven rebounds for good measure. Greg Monroe, who is always a handful down low, chipped in 15 points and 11 rebounds, but the Celtics did not really get pushed around in the paint. The were beaten on the boards but not embarrassed, 50-42, and barely were outscored in the paint 44-40.
This just came down to a Celtics team that did not seem committed to running its offense, and a Pistons team that appears to have figured out how to beat the Celtics at home.
Fourth quarter, 3:14, Pistons 94-80: Log onto your Rondo Triple-Double Watch Machine. The Celtics’ point guard has 15 assists, nine rebounds and nine turnovers.
Fourth quarter, 3:46, Pistons 91-76: There is still some time left, but the Celtics will have to turn it on quickly if they want to avoid leaving the Motor City with a three-game losing streak.
The Celtics are holding tight on the glass and at the foul line now, but their offense — what little there is of it — continues to hold them back. They have been particularly dreadful from beyond the arc, where they are 4-for-14. The Pistons are 8-for-18.
Fourth quarter, 5:37, Pistons 89-77: Barbosa can help push the pace, but The Brazilian Blur is no miracle worker. Rivers inserted Barbosa to try to give some sort of boost to the offense, and Barbosa came through with two quick buckets by sprinting out ahead of the defense. The rest of the Celtics have a lot of work to do to catch up.
Fourth quarter, 8:00, Pistons 89-73: There might be a lot of long faces when people show up for work in the Boston area on Monday morning. As though things are not going badly enough in Foxboro, in Detroit the Celtics have watched their deficit balloon to 16 points thanks to some totally stagnant offensive possessions. Boston’s defense has been no piece of art, either, but the Celtics’ .360 field goal percentage sums it up.
End of third quarter, Pistons 81-71: Somebody has abducted Andre Drummond and replaced him with Calvin Murphy.
Drummond, the rookie big man who normally shots 39 percent from the charity stripe, is 6-for-8 from the line in this one. Rivers has employed the hack-a-Drummond strategy, and it has failed big time.
Conversely, the Pistons do not appear to be fouling the Celtics intentionally, but maybe they should be. The Celtics are a respectable 17-for-23 from the line, but they went just 6-for-10 in the third quarter. Those misses hampered the Celtics’ chances of working their way back into this game.
Third quarter, 3:17, Pistons 70-63: Knight and the Pistons are throwing away the ball left and right, but like Friday’s game against the Bulls, the Celtics have struggled to get much offense out of the miscues. Despite 18 turnovers by Detroit, the Celtics have had trouble pushing the ball or playing with motion on offense.
The Celtics have managed to pull within seven, though, mostly because the Pistons are still the Pistons, and thanks to a smaller lineup that has kept Detroit’s big bodies off the court.
Third quarter, 5:59, Pistons 67-58: If you clicked over to this game to get away from the Pats, sorry. This game is no consolation.
The Celtics are getting outworked at both ends, and Rondo has taken to tossing careless passes all over the floor, helping the Pistons move toward a double-digit lead again.
Third quarter, 8:24, Pistons 61-54: The Celtics are clear that the first four minutes of each half count, right?
Once again, the Celtics have begun a half of basketball looking less than engaged. Apart from a baseline jump shot by Bradley and a run-out layup by Bradley off a baseball pass by Rondo, the Celtics have been off the mark offensively. At the same time, they have managed to allow two 3-pointers and an old-fashioned three-point play to see their lead extend to seven.
Halftime, Pistons 52-48: Haters of the dreaded two-for-one strategy, unite.
The Celtics climbed all the way back to knot the score at 48-48, but after Knight dropped home a floater for Detroit to retake the lead with 38.5 seconds left in the half, Rivers may have gotten a little too cute. The Celtics took a timeout to draw up a blueprint to get two shots in the allotted time, and the result was a shoddy possession leading to a fast-break layup by Knight and a scoreless trip to end the half.
Still, the Celtics’ work in the second quarter was not all for naught. They did manage to pull back from an 18-point deficit, and they continued to get strong play from their second unit. Lee scored all 12 of his points in the second quarter, and Garnett had all 11 of his points as well. The Celtics shot close to 50 percent in the quarter after clanging everything in the opening quarter, but their defense could still use work. The Pistons actually shot better as a team in the second quarter, which is why they were able to generate just enough offense to stay ahead.
Second quarter, 3:09, Pistons 45-40: The Pistons still lead, but the tide is clearly turning. Despite some highlights for the Pistons, such as a crazy fadeaway by Charlie Villanueva and a two-handed slam by Kyle Singler, the Celtics have chipped away at this lead thanks to Garnett’s shooting and some more aggressive play by Green and Lee.
Second quarter, 8:09, Pistons 36-28: Some things are just too predictable. Pierce and Rondo entered the game with the Celtics reeling. In a snap, the Pistons did not look like such Bad Boys anyway, and more like just a bad team.
The Celtics scored 10 unanswered points, helped along by three Detroit turnovers and two corner 3-pointers by Courtney Lee from approximately the same spot. Suddenly an 18-point deficit is down to single digits for the Celtics.
Second quarter, 9:46, Pistons 36-18: Andre Drummond was passed over by a lot of teams in the last draft due to questions about his dedication to the game. The ninth pick still has not answered all those questions, but one thing that was never in doubt was his skill.
Drummond showed off his raw abilities by catching and dunking alley-oop passes on consecutive Pistons possessions. The Pistons have opened the second quarter on a 9-0 run.
End of first quarter, Pistons 27-18: Jeff Green is on his game. That should be good news for the Celtics, but they will need somebody else in their lineup to contribute for it to matter.
Green ended the first quarter with a fallaway 20-footer to give him a game-high nine points — or half of Boston’s entire scoring output. Meanwhile, the Pistons have gotten seven points each from Knight and Prince, and they have hit nearly half their shots. The Celtics shot just 27 percent in that first quarter.
First quarter, 2:31, Pistons 21-10: Rivers made a smart move with his second unit by pairing Jason Collins and Jared Sullinger up front. Neither big man is the most athletic player, but both compete their butts off. That showed in the early rebounding returns, with Sullinger grabbing four boards in his first six minutes.
The Celtics still trail, but by merely bringing some intensity down low, Collins and Sullinger provided something worthwhile for Boston.
First quarter, 7:57, Pistons 11-2: Don’t worry, folks. You are not the only ones who seem to have your attention divided here.
The Celtics are playing like they have one eye on the Patriots’ score, too. They have missed seven of their first eight shots and have more personal fouls (three) than rebounds (two). Everybody in Detroit’s starting lineup has scored already, so at least the Celtics are letting the Pistons spread the wealth.
7:40 p.m.: Sike! Bradley’s starting after all. Rivers said it was Bradley’s call, and it looks like Bradley’s call was the play.
7:09 p.m.: Already a man down in the backcourt (probably), the last thing the Celtics needed was another guard battling through an injury this game. But it appears Leandro Barbosa, who started in Bradley’s place Friday, has a back issue he is dealing with. Barbosa can still play, but he may not be at 100 percent.
We’ll give you the projected starters listed below, with the understanding that it is very, very tentative at this point.
6:25 p.m.: If you were hoping Celtics coach Doc Rivers would shed some light on Bradley’s status, guess again. Rivers told reporters before the game that Bradley “probably” would not play, so we will all find out about Bradley’s status whenever he does (or does not) check into the game.
6:04 p.m.: Personally, I think it was foolish of the NFL to schedule the Pats-Ravens AFC Championship Game to go up against this HUGE Celtics-Pistons matchup. Roger Goodell is going to feel so bad when he sees the TV ratings numbers and finds out nobody in New England bothered to check out that other game down in Foxboro.
After all, the Ravens have already told us who is going to win that game, anyway. So what’s the point of watching?
OK, that is enough sarcasm for the evening. Hopefully, you have decided to watch the Patriots game while keep one eye locked here for Celtics updates (when you’re not checking out our AFC Championship live blog, of course). We are still not sure whether Avery Bradley will play in Detroit. Bradley injured his ribs in the Celtics’ loss to New Orleans and did not play Friday against the Bulls, but he was seen on the floor at The Palace of Auburn Hills getting up some shots this afternoon.
The Pistons, who have lost three out of four, would obviously welcome Bradley’s absence. But the backcourt is not where Detroit does the most damage. Chris Wilcox, who has been available for the last three games but has not played with a sprained right thumb, may need to finally return to the court for the Celtics to keep up with a young Pistons front line.
8 a.m. ET: Two straight losses have given the Celtics reason to worry, so it may help to get away for a while. A two-game road trip against teams mired near the bottom of the standings therefore could be the perfect antidote.
Of course, an opponent that was overmatched on paper managed to halt the Celtics’ six-game winning streak, so the Pistons (14-25) should not be taken lightly. The Celtics (20-19) have the misfortune of facing a Detroit squad that discovered how to win in the last few weeks. The Pistons had won seven of nine before dropping their last two games, including Thursday’s defeat in London at the hands of the Knicks.
After holding their own against a tough Chicago front line on Friday, the Celtics will be challenged again up front by Greg Monroe, Jason Maxiell and Andre Drummond. All three of those big men are capable of putting together a double-double if Boston is not careful.
The Celtics received some good news when X-rays on Avery Bradley’s ribs came back negative. He will travel with the Celtics to Detroit before the team heads to Cleveland, but there is no assurance he will play in either game.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.