Celtics Show Resolve By Fending Off Pistons, But Late-Game Play Still An Issue

BOSTON — Groundhog Day has come and gone, but the Celtics almost relived a troubling scenario at TD Garden on Wednesday night.

The Celtics played excellent in the first half against the Detroit Pistons and entered the fourth quarter with an 18-point lead. Yet Detroit outscored Boston 35-24 in the final frame to nearly complete a massive comeback.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because the Pistons did almost the exact same thing at TD Garden just over a month ago, scoring 33 points to the Celtics’ 19 in the fourth quarter to pull off a 99-94, come-from-behind win.

The difference Wednesday, of course, was that the Celtics emerged victorious with a 102-95 win, and that’s all head coach Brad Stevens cared about after the game.

“We’ve got to continue to get better at playing all 48 (minutes),” Stevens said. “But as I told our guys in there, I’m not going to act like that was anything but a win.”

Stevens and the Celtics also were quick to credit the Pistons, who hit five 3-pointers during a long-ball barrage in the third quarter and continued that strong play into the fourth.

“It’s just hard in the NBA to keep a lead, I mean, with any team,” point guard Isaiah Thomas said. “We were up the whole game, but at some point they’re going to make their run.”

Swingman Evan Turner phrased the Pistons’ comeback a different way.

“When you’re down 20, to a certain extent, you’re playing with house money,” he said.

No matter how you slice it, though, the Celtics need to improve their second half play if they want to be a serious contender. Boston has been outscored in the fourth quarter in three of its last five contests, one of which was a disappointing loss to the Orlando Magic. The C’s have been average at best in close games all season; entering Wednesday, they were 4-5 in games decided by six points or less.

The Celtics showed signs of clutch down the stretch Wednesday, however. After Detroit cut Boston’s lead to just seven, Marcus Smart drilled a 3-pointer from the corner with a minute remaining that ultimately would be the dagger.

“However we got the win, that’s all we cared about,” Thomas added. “I think, for the most part, we did a solid job of that. Teams are going to make runs, and you can’t panic on what they do.”

For one night, the Celtics keeping their cool was good enough. But there’s still work to be done.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives the ball against Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) in the second half at TD Garden. Celtics defeated Detroit 102 -95.

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