Jerryd Bayless, Brandon Bass and a few other players had that gleam in their eyes that the Boston Celtics haven’t seen in a while. They weren’t going to let the team lose.
After blowing a 19-point second-half lead, the Celtics still clung to hope late against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday. Bass and Jared Sullinger were doing yeoman’s work down low. Bayless was finishing off a 25-point night. Detroit forwards Greg Monroe and Josh Smith spent all but 19 seconds combined in the fourth quarter glued to the bench.
When Bayless unleashed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer with six seconds left, for a moment it looked like everything would be all right.
Halfway through the rim, the ball changed its mind. Out it popped, and down went the Celtics, 115-111, after a couple of free throws by Brandon Jennings.
Bayless’ miss wasn’t what lost the game for the Celtics (23-54), however. They did plenty to lose the game long before that.
“I thought we let off the gas in transition defensively a couple of times, and now all of the sudden, instead of a 19-point game, it’s a 13- or 12-point game and the momentum is swinging,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Detroit. “Your shots get tougher and theirs get freer. We’ve seen that time and again in this league: Those leads go quick.”
Don’t blame the loss on Boston going cold from distance, missing eight of its last nine threes after starting 13-for-22 beyond the arc. Don’t blame Rodney Stuckey’s massive fourth quarter, when he scored 10 points to steal the win for the Pistons (28-49), either.
Blame a sieve-like Celtics defense, which allowed Detroit to hit 12 of 21 shots between the 6:00 mark of the third quarter and the 6:00 mark of the fourth quarter. Bass, who battled with the much larger Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond all game, picked up two cheap fouls late when Jeff Green spaced out defensively. Not coincidentally, Green was matched up with Jonas Jerebko, who scored six huge points in the fourth quarter, including a back cut past a flat-footed, back-turned Green.
After all that, Bayless still nearly bailed the Celtics out. He wasn’t going to let his team lose — except it did.
“I haven’t seen (Bayless’ shot) on film, but it looked like it was down and in and back out again,” Stevens said. “It’s frustrating, obviously, but there’s things that you can do prior to (that shot) that we didn’t.”
On the heels of two of the worst overall efforts of the season, the Celtics clearly brought their usual high-hustle level in Detroit. Phil Pressey, at 5-foot-11, earned a Tommy Point by tipping home a late Jared Sullinger miss, and Chris Babb came up with four steals, although he missed all four shots he took. For most of the game, they owned the offensive glass against the league’s best offensive-rebounding team.
That’s a long way of saying the Celtics didn’t quit. Usually, that would be taken for granted, but not lately.
This defeat, the team’s 19th since the All-Star break, gives the Celtics a virtual stranglehold on one of the top four spots in the NBA draft lottery. They now trail the Orlando Magic by one game for the third-highest odds of winning the No. 1 pick. The Utah Jazz, with two fewer losses, won Friday to “hurt” their chances in the lottery race.