Celtics lose 3rd in row, fall to Pistons, 103-88

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Celtics lose 3rd in row, fall to Pistons, 103-88

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. Having returned from London Friday afternoon, the Detroit Pistons were supposed to be the ones that would be a step or two slow due to jet-lag.

But it was the Celtics spending most of the night playing catch-up as the Pistons continued their dominance over the C's with a 103-88 win.

Although Detroit (15-25) has been among the NBA's worst teams in recent years, they have managed to have their way with Boston, which has now lost four in a row to the Pistons.

And all four losses have been by double-digits, something no team has done to the Celtics since the Miami Heat swept the four games played against the C's in the 1997-1998 season.

In addition, the loss on Sunday was also Boston's (20-20) third straight after having won six in a row.

Well versed in digging its share of ditches this season, Boston trailed 11-2 to start the game and fell behind by as many 18 points (36-18) in the second quarter.

Maybe they were thinking about the Patriots game because the Cs looked like a team that was both slow and seemingly elsewhere.

And then the Patriots went into the half and the Celtics went on a defensive binge of steals and deflections which created addition scoring opportunities.

Within minutes, this Detroit beat-down became a defensive, scrappy battle that saw the C's respond with a 22-4 run and eventually pull even at 48 on a pair of free throws by Courtney Lee.

Lee was part of a Celtics 1-2 punch off the bench - along with Jeff Green - that kept the C's afloat while most of their teammates drifted in and out between being impact players and flat-out irrelevant.

At the half, Lee and Green each had 12 points and finished with 16 and 15 points, respectively.

But their play could not put the C's ahead as Detroit closed out the half with a pair of jumpers by Brandon Knight to take a 52-48 lead into the half. Knight led all Detroit scorers with 12 points.

Boston's defensive turnaround in the second came for the most part without Avery Bradley, their top on-the-ball defender.

Bradley was not supposed to play on Sunday. The listed starting five handed out on press row had Leandro Barbosa starting. Even the public address announcer introduced Barbosa as the starter instead of Bradley who managed to convince Doc Rivers at the last minute to give him a shot at playing.

He played just over seven minutes and had two points in the first half, but it was clear that the rib injury he was playing with had an impact on his ability to defend at the level he's accustomed to.

Still, to be down by just four points at the half considering how horrific they began the game was certainly promising for the C's ... or so we thought.

After a Bradley score cut Detroit's lead to 55-54, the Pistons hit back-to-back 3s from almost the same spot on the floor - both with Paul Pierce defending.

It was that kind of game for the Celtics, similar to their 100-99 overtime loss to Chicago on Friday, in which the C's spent a good chunk of the game playing close, but can't get-over-the-hump basketball as the Pistons pushed their one-point lead to nine (67-58) following a put-back dunk by Greg Monroe with about six minutes to play.

Boston cut into the deficit only to once again be turned away as Detroit went into the fourth quarter with an 81-71 lead as the C's never presented any kind of legit threat for the rest of the game.

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Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

WALTHAM, Mass. –  As the fourth quarter rolls around, you will occasionally catch Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas looking down at his wrist, a gesture to remind anyone watching what time it is – Thomas time.

There are those who elevate their play in the fourth quarter of games, and then there’s Thomas who continues to smoothly navigate his way in unchartered fourth quarter scoring territory.

The Celtics begin the second half of the season Wednesday night against the New York Knicks, and there sits Thomas atop all players in the NBA when it comes to fourth-quarter scoring.

But that’s not all.

He’s not only dropping more points than any other NBA player in the most important quarter of them all, but he’s doing so at an unprecedented level of 10.1 fourth-quarter points per game.

Since NBA.com/stats began tracking fourth quarter scoring with the 1997-1998 season, no player has averaged more than 9.5 fourth-quarter points (LeBron James, 2006) in a season.

What makes Thomas’ fourth quarter heroics so impressive is that everyone in the building – fans, coaches, opponents – knows that’s when he’s looking to be most impactful for the Celtics and yet he still can’t be stopped.

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford acknowledged how tough it is to limit Thomas despite knowing he’s looking to take over games in the fourth.

“It’s hard because the blitz game is impossible because they don’t roll,” said Clifford whose Hornets were beaten 108-98 by Boston on Monday. “If you watch the teams that try to blitz them, you’re going to give up basically lay-ups. We had things in to get the ball out of his hands but the way they played and the stuff that they usually go to late, they didn’t get to. He (Thomas) made some terrific plays; he’s a terrific offensive player.”

Despite what he does in the fourth and his overall scoring average of 28.2 points which is ranked among the league’s leaders, there are still lots of doubters as to how good Thomas.

Regardless of how you view his play, he has consistently played at a level this season that places him among the game’s best players.

And at the rate he’s scoring in the fourth quarter, he’s establishing himself as one of the great closers in the game.

Consider the list of players in the past decade who led the league in points scored in the fourth quarter.

  • 2016: James Harden (7.7)
  • 2015: Russell Westbrook (7.1)
  • 2014: Kevin Durant (7.9)
  • 2013: Kevin Durant (8.4)
  • 2012: Kevin Durant (7.3)
  • 2011: Amare Stoudemire (7.1)
  • 2010: LeBron James (8.0)
  • 2009: LeBron James (7.7)
  • 2008: LeBron James (9.1)
  • 2007: Dwyane Wade (8.2)

You have All-stars, All-NBA First Teamers, league MVPs as well as a few future Hall of Famers.

As good as those players were in their respective seasons, when the game mattered most – the fourth quarter – Thomas numbers (for now at least) stand head and shoulders above them all.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens gives Thomas a lot of credit for being such a consistent scorer, particularly in the fourth quarter.

But as good as Thomas is, he’s not out there getting all these baskets on his own, either.

“It says a lot about the fact that he’s got a lot of skilled guys around him that are hard to leave,” Stevens said. “When you’re playing Kelly (Olynyk) and Jonas (Jerebko) together with him, there’s a lot of space on the floor to operate. When those guys are at the four (power forward) and five (center), when you’re playing guys like Al Horford who can space the floor or Avery (Bradley) or Jae (Crowder), you know, those types of guys … at the end of the day I think that it’s a combination of a lot of things.”

And for opponents, a lot of problems.

“He’s been playing well,” Hornets guard Kemba Walker said of Thomas. “He’s been playing better than anyone in our league. He’s playing with great confidence and making the plays for his team to win games. He’s been great.”