The Celtics needed to earn their 128-122 overtime victory over the Pistons on Thursday night, which Boston head coach Joe Mazzulla anticipated before the start of the game.

Detroit, losers of an ongoing NBA record-setting 28 straight games, has sat on the wrong side of history for the vast majority of the season. There hasn’t been a team that’s even competed with the Pistons for the “worst team” label thus far, and with a 2-29 record, including a 1-15 start on the road, it’s hard to imagine anyone will down the line.

Yet, despite all the negativity that’s made Detroit out to be the punching bag of the NBA this season, Mazzulla still viewed the Pistons as “one of the hardest” matchups for the Celtics.

“I think everybody comes into a game like this and it’s like, ‘Oh, the Celtics are playing the Pistons, they should win the game and they’re gonna win the game.’ And they look at the record and they create this emotional mindset of like, ‘Oh this is easy,’ ” Mazzulla told reporters after the Celtics’ win, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame coverage. “Nobody’s probably watched five or six Detroit Pistons games and see how hard they play and how talented they are. Just because they’re two and whatever, it doesn’t mean they haven’t been in 10 close games that they could’ve won if the ball bounced their way.”

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Based on performance, the first half certainly lived up to Mazzulla’s expectations — at least from Detroit’s side. The Pistons shot 61% from the field to Boston’s 39%, giving Detroit a 19-point edge heading into halftime. And although they ultimately blew it, the Pistons still managed to claw their way into overtime and gave themselves a chance at ending the streak.

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That proved that even the NBA’s worst team, on any given night, can still compete with the NBA’s best team.

Granted, the Celtics were without co-star Jaylen Brown, but even that doesn’t exonerate them from arguably their worst first-half performance of the season. Boston was ice-cold from beyond the arc, going 4-for-24 through the first and second quarters, while Detroit took full advantage of the Celtics’ costly inability to adapt and find baskets elsewhere.

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“It’s actually very simple. They had 34 points in the paint, we tried every coverage in the book and none of them are gonna work if we don’t play hard and we turned the ball over,” Mazzulla added. “I think if you just focus on the details and the execution, you can chip away. You kind of saw that from the guys, we got some stops, we chipped away at them, got some easy baskets and it became a game.”

Not pretty, far from easy, but good enough to keep the Celtics atop the Eastern Conference with a still-NBA-best 24-6 record, including an undefeated 15-0 run at home.

Featured image via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images