AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The NBA game is a thing of beauty most nights. But Sunday's game between Boston and Detroit left a lot to be desired.
Lots of turnovers by both teams, free throws being bricked ... a game that at times was painful to watch.
And for the Celtics who escaped with a 104-98 win, this might have been the most beautiful game they've played all season.
Teams that rely on the 3-ball as much as Boston does, typically don't do well in the postseason.
They tend to be more finesse than physical, more marshmallow-soft than mallet-hard.
But there was nothing soft about the way Boston played Detroit, a team that usually tosses them around like a rag doll around the glass.
Not on Sunday, a night in which Boston won the battle of the boards 52-45.
And it was a slow-drip killing by Boston on the glass against Detroit, finishing each quarter with an overall rebounding advantage which speaks to how they never really allowed the Pistons to gain any significant traction on the boards.
The Pistons, like they always seem to do, didn’t make things easy for the Celtics.
They blitzed Isaiah Thomas, forcing someone taller than 5-foot-9 on Boston's roster who averages less than 29 points per game, to step up.
There was Jae Crowder delivering a stealth job scoring and on the boards before finishing with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Marcus Smart was effectively crashing the glass with four of his five rebounds being of the offensive variety.
And then there was Jaylen Brown, the only rookie of significance to play in the game. He did more than just score 13 points, but delivered a back-breaking dagger of a 3-ball in front of the Celtics’ bench with 37.3 seconds to play that put the Celtics ahead 98-86.
This was the kind of performance by the Celtics that speaks to a team that’s starting to develop a deeper understanding that they're going to have to do more than just knock down 3's in order to truly be successful, especially on nights like Sunday when they didn't play one of their best games.
There was a stretch in the third quarter that on most nights would have been the demise of this Celtics team.
Leading 67-52 following a 3-pointer by Thomas with 9:06 to play in the quarter, Boston went nearly four minutes without scoring a single point, a span in which the Pistons scored 11 points.
“We started (the third quarter) out bad,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “I think we had six or seven turnovers in a row and things weren’t going our way. But we stayed together, kept fighting and things started turning for us in the end. We made plays down the stretch.”
Withstanding a slew of mistakes while still being able to defend well enough to hold on to a lead, is something the Celtics haven’t done nearly enough of this season.
But when they failed in this area earlier this season, there was always the possibility of addressing this via a trade at the deadline.
But that ship has sailed.
And the Celtics players, whether they want to embrace it or not, have to step up and secure the number two seed or better, in the East.
Doing so means getting the job on nights like Sunday when their best play isn’t present.
Doing so means winning a game with Isaiah Thomas giving you less than 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Doing so has to become more than a goal, but an expectation for Boston.
And Detroit was a great opportunity for them to do just that.
To Boston’s credit, they did just enough to leave the Palace of Auburn Hills for the last time (the team will move to downtown Detroit and play at the Little Caesars Arena next season) with a victory that was hard-earned and by anyone’s definition far from a thing of beauty.
And that folks, is what makes this victory just that … a thing of beauty for a team that has visions of parlaying a strong showing following the All-Star break into a deep playoff run that will surely be one in which they will not always play their best but still must find a path to success.
Smart for one was pleased with the Celtics winning in a not-so-aesthetically pleasing style.
“You don’t want to win pretty,” Smart said. “Especially getting ready for the playoffs and things like that. Games aren’t going to be pretty; there’s going to be some ugly games. The team that’s willing to get down and dirty is the team that’s going to come out of the series.”
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The Boston Celtics came into Sunday’s game looking to rebound from back-to-back losses.
So it was only fitting that down the stretch, one of the biggest plays in Boston’s 104-98 victory over Detroit was – what else? – a rebound.
Marcus Smart out-hustling Detroit’s frontcourt to corral a free throw miss by Jaylen Brown – and getting fouled on the play – was a major factor in Boston (38-21) continuing to solidify its place as the second-best team in the East.
Smart went to the free throw line and made both free throws which put the Celtics ahead 100-96 with 37.3 seconds to play.
“Smart’s free throw rebound was as big as there was,” said Boston head coach Brad Stevens.
Smart had five rebounds for the game, four of which were offensive boards which contributed to his 14 points off the Celtics bench.
His play was needed on a night when the Pistons – like most teams – went to great lengths to make sure anyone but Isaiah Thomas had the ball down the stretch.
And to the credit of Thomas’ teammates like Smart, they delivered.
“We can’t put everything on Isaiah, especially when teams know where we’re trying to go,” Smart said. “They know Isaiah is ‘Mr. Fourth Quarter,’ so they’re going to try everything they can to get the ball out of his hands and make other guys make plays and that’s what we did tonight.”
Here’s a look at the Stars, Studs and Duds from Sunday’s game.
Boston got yet another big game from their best scorer, with Thomas delivering a game-high 33 points on 10-for-23 shooting.
Free throw shooting aside, the Celtics had lots of problems keeping Drummond from dominating the boards. He finished with a double-double of 17 points and 15 rebounds.
The steady improvement in Jaylen Brown’s game continues with yet another solid performance. He scored 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting which included a corner-3-pointer late in the game to put the Celtics ahead.
He drained a couple of 3’s in the second half that was critical to Detroit’s near comeback after being down 15 points in the first half. He finished with a team-high 18 points on 6-for-14 shooting with three rebounds and three assists.
There is something to be said for making winning plays, something Smart tends to do with a high level of consistency. He had 14 points off the Celtics bench to go with five rebounds – four on the offensive glass – including a late offensive rebound in which he was fouled and later, converted a pair of free throws to put Boston up by four points with 37.3 seconds to play.
There were lots of standout performances by the Celtics on Sunday, but few were as under-the-radar as Crowder’s night. He finished with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds in addition to dishing out five assists along with a steal.
It was one of those nights for Olynyk who never got into any kind of flow or rhythm while in the game. He finished with five points, missing six of his eight shot attempts. He grabbed six rebounds but turned the ball over three times in just over 19 minutes of court time. And maybe most telling, his plus/minus was -11 which was the worst figure among Boston players.