BOSTON — The sentiment in the Celtics’ locker room after Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Pistons was uniform: This was one they should have had.
Boston led by double digits in the third quarter against a Detroit team that had lost 11 of its last 13 games and lacked the services of starting big man Greg Monroe. It looked like the perfect opportunity for the Celtics to get back on track after being swept on a two-game Western Conference road trip.
But rather than riding the confidence of a slump-busting win, the Celtics instead were left kicking themselves after a loss to a team they firmly believed they should have beaten.
The Pistons rallied in the fourth quarter to force overtime, then blew the Celtics out of the water, scoring the first seven points of the extra session en route to a 105-97 win at TD Garden.
?I think when you?re up 10 twice in the span of, like, six or seven minutes, we definitely have to be mature and put it away,” said guard Evan Turner, who had failed to get a shot off with the game tied on the final possession of regulation. “That was a tough, tough loss.”
It was especially tough for forward Jonas Jerebko, a former Piston who joined the Celtics at the trade deadline.
?They just played harder than us at the end of the game,” Jerebko said. “We didn?t really play our kind of basketball for long stretches of the game. Like I said, they played hard, and they came out with a win.
?… It?s the toughest (loss), I think. I wanted to win (Sunday night). But that?s the good thing about the NBA. We?re jumping on a flight, and we?re playing (Monday) night, so we?ve just got to keep our heads up and play good (Monday).”
A quick recovery will be crucial for these Celtics, who play fellow playoff hopefuls in three of their next five games, beginning Monday night in Brooklyn. With the race for the postseason as tight as it is — Boston sits a half-game out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference — losses to lottery-bound opponents like the Pistons simply are unacceptable.
That’s the message forward Gerald Wallace, the elder statesman in the Celtics’ locker room, tried to instill in his younger teammates after the game.
?These are the ones that hurt,” forward Jae Crowder said. “Gerald Wallace got us in together as a team and said, these games, we have to have if you want to be the playoff hunt. We have to have these games. (The Pistons) are really playing for nothing. Even though they?re in the hunt, they?re really not playing for anything as of late. Those are the teams that can harm you the most.”
The 34-year-old Wallace knows what it takes to succeed in this, the most important time of the NBA season, Crowder said. If the Celtics hope to keep playing past April 15, they’ll need to figure it out, too.
?We definitely have to respond,” Turner said. “And we can?t be kicking ourselves in the foot. Just in general, we have to be mature enough. We?re not at the level of great where we say, ?We deserve this game.? We have to go earn it. (Monday) is a great bounce-back night, and we?re just going to have to show our toughness.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images