BOSTON — On a scale from zero to 10, zero being not at all frustrating and 10 being the most frustrating, Brandon Jennings is an 11.
When it comes to NBA players who have the ability to baffle everybody in the building, including their own teams, few can match Jennings for exasperation. He is capable of nights when he looks nearly unstoppable and nights when he almost single-handedly shoots his team to defeat.
One way or another, he’s frustrating someone, either on the opponent’s side or his own. When Jennings is on — as he was Wednesday, when he scored 28 points and handed out 14 assists to lead the Pistons to a 107-106 win over the Celtics — he hits some shots that make defenders shrug their shoulders, if they’re not already pulling out their hair.
“We shrugged our shoulders at a lot of those shots,” Celtics guard Courtney Lee said. “I mean, it was great D, and then he’s kicking his leg out. One of them, they called a foul on Avery [Bradley] when [Bradley] was straight up and [Jennings] is kicking his leg out. It’s tough to guard those shots, but if he’s taking those shots all game, we’ll live with that.”
As Lee noted, opponents usually accept the trade-off when defending Jennings. While Jennings is capable of stuffing the points column in the box score, his shooting percentage is seldom impressive. He was a mediocre 9-for-21 from the field against the Celtics, and that actually marked one of the better shooting nights for the 39-percent shooter. Usually, those crossover step-back 3-pointers don’t fall as often as they did Wednesday, when he hit five from beyond the arc.
Afterward, Bradley was not eager to talk about guarding Jennings, who hit a number of tough shots against Bradley’s hounding defense. The back-breaker came with 46.7 seconds left, when Jennings hit a pull-up three over Bradley to give Detroit the lead for good after Jared Sullinger had hit a three of his own to briefly give the Celtics a 105-104 lead.
“He was just able to make some tough shots,” Bradley said curtly.
Brandon Bass shook off interview requests prior to game even after Lee entertained a few questions from reporters. Bass and Lee were the subject of a pervasive trade rumor about the Celtics acquiring center Omer Asik from Houston in a trade that took on many reported permutations.
Bass politely told reporters he would answer questions after the game. When he granted said interview, though, he was less than illuminating.
Does he hear any trade rumors involving him?
“No, I don’t,” he said.
Does he know anything about the rumored Asik deal?
“No, I don’t,” he said.
Was he lying?
“No, I’m not,” he said.
The Celtics burst out of the gate with 42 points on 70-percent shooting in the first quarter — and it might have been the worst thing that could have happened to them.
After their hot start, the Celtics slowly tapered off in the second and third quarters, when they were outscored 57-39 and shot 15-for-40 from the floor. A couple of desperate flurries by Lee and Sullinger in the fourth quarter nearly saved them. Lee and Sullinger each scored six straight Boston points at different stretches of the fourth, with each player’s run only interrupted by a Jennings three. Sullinger missed a free throw with 41 seconds left that would have tied the score, but the game was actually lost well before that miss.
The Celtics committed 18 turnovers, which turned into 30 points for the Pistons, according to Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
“The easy part is to say that we were up 19 and we didn’t hold on, but the bottom line is, they outplayed us for 36 minutes and we outplayed them for 12,” Stevens said. “It wasn’t good enough, and it’s not going to be good enough. They turned us over, and that was the difference in the game, I thought.”
Despite his work to will the Celtics back into the game, Sullinger never touched the ball in the final 17 seconds. With the Celtics trailing by one, Bass initially got the ball and dribbled for several seconds before Stevens was forced to call a frantic timeout. Then Jeff Green got a decent look at a driving layup that missed as time expired.
Stevens didn’t take issue with the final play or the one before it, when Bass looked flummoxed when the designed play broke down.
“I thought we got Sully setting the screen for Jeff at the top of the key and then they were going to play off that, just a single pin-down,” Stevens said of Green’s last shot. “With four seconds left, I think the bottom line is to try to get it to a guy that you think can make a play. Even though it wasn’t a great night for Jeff overall, getting it into the middle of the floor with him driving in that direction, we’ve all seen him make those plays time and again, so I don’t have a problem with the last shot we got by any means.”
As for the aborted play with Bass, Stevens said, “there was a flare away that we were setting, actually, for Sullinger, and Brandon didn’t think it was there, and it probably wasn’t, so it was great defense on Detroit’s part. He could have tried to score that, but at the same time, what’s going through his head is probably the play first and then he didn’t end up taking the shot. So we called a timeout and got it back again and got what I would consider to be a reasonable look after that.”
On the players’ side, Sullinger and Lee both expressed confidence in Green taking — and making — the final shot again.
“Every time,” Lee said. “Jeff, out of everybody here, has probably hit more game-winning shots since I’ve been here.”