Celtics-Pistons review: Lack of urgency hinders C's


Celtics-Pistons review: Lack of urgency hinders C's

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. This losing three games in a row thing is nothing new to the Celtics.

And yet it feels worse now.


Because the struggles earlier this year had as much to do with players understanding and executing their roles, as anything else.

Once Avery Bradley returned, folks settled into the roles that they were supposed to play, and then the wins started to pile up.

But Bradley (ribs) isn't himself now, and apparently the same can be said for the Celtics in losing 103-88 to the Pistons.

There's little doubt that the Pistons are playing better basketball overall than their 14-25 - make that 15-25 record - indicates.

However, having returned from London on Friday afternoon, Detroit was the more quicker, faster team that played with a greater sense of urgency.

And that more than anything else, was disappointing to see. The Pistons are in rebuilding mode with the goal being to simply get into the playoffs. Despite Boston's not-so-stellar record, they still hold out hope that they can turn their season around and make what they expect will be another deep playoff run.

Still, time is running out, and so are the many excuses used to explain losses to teams that have struggled mightily all season.

Not playing with a heightened sense of urgency once again proved costly to Boston. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game and how they actually played out as the C's look to get back on their winning ways Tuesday at Cleveland.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics are a bona fide jump-shooting team, but they may not have much of a choice against Detroit. In addition to being one of the league's best rebounding teams, the Pistons are also one of the NBA's best at blocking shots. Their 5.7 blocks per game ranks ninth in the league this season.

WHAT WE SAW: Not surprisingly the C's spent most of the game shooting jumpers which meant very few opportunities for the Pistons to block shots. That said, Detroit still managed to swat away seven shots - four by Jason Maxiell who is just (generously listed) at 6-foot-7.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jared Sullinger vs. Andre Drummond: While there's a lot more star power than these two on display, both have been coming on strong of late for their respective teams to the point where one has to legitimately question whether they have earned the right to start. Look for these two rookie of the year candidates to be difference-makers off the bench.

WHAT WE SAW: Both players had solid numbers for what they do best - Sullinger rebounding (seven boards) and Drummond scoring (team-high 16 points) - but the edge on this night has to go to Drummond who in addition to his scoring, also had seven rebounds and a blocked shot.

PLAYER TO WATCH: With back-to-back losses, do not be surprised to see Paul Pierce have a huge game for the C's. He's averaging a team-best 19.3 points a game this season, but has averaged just 12.5 points in Boston's last two games - both losses.

WHAT WE SAW: Pierce continues to struggle with his shot, scoring just 10 points against the Pistons. Usually he finds other ways to contribute, such as rebounds (he had eight on Sunday). As important as board work is, the Celtics needed the Captain to do what he does best and that's score points. And 10 points ... that's not going to cut it most nights even if he was 5-for-10 from the field.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston's second unit has to step up tonight, and they'll have to do it against a Detroit team whose backups rank among the league's best in terms of scoring. According to Hoopsstats.com, Detroit's second unit ranks ninth in the league in scoring (37 points per game) while the C's backup bunch comes in at No. 18 with a 31.3 points per game average.

WHAT WE SAW: The second quarter opened with a 9-0 Detroit run which came on top of a lead that was already at nine points. Boston would cut into the Detroit lead several times, even tying the score at 48. But that would be as close as they would get as Detroit's second unit continued to come up with big shots. Although Boston did manage to outscore the Pistons' bench 48-40, the second unit edge has to go to the Pistons for doing something more important than making points - making a difference in multiple areas of play.

Horford's all-around play key in first regular season game with Celtics

Horford's all-around play key in first regular season game with Celtics

BOSTON – The Al Horford love fest continues with the veteran big man delivering yet another impressive performance for the Boston Celtics.

And this one?

Unlike his play in the preseason, Wednesday night's game counts.

Horford’s all-around play was pivotal to Boston holding on for a 122-117 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

The four-time All-Star made several high-basketball IQ-type plays that in hindsight, were major key moments in Boston pushing its lead to as many as 23 points.

In the third quarter with Boston ahead 71-65, Horford took advantage of Brooklyn closing out too hard on him and drove into the lane. As the Nets defenders collapsed to take away a shot attempt in the lane, Horford swung the ball to Jae Crowder whose jumper triggered a 14-5 run.

Boston would lead by double figures until the last couple of minutes of the game.

“We have to keep playing the right way, for 48 minutes,” Horford said when asked about the team’s late-game collapse.

The late-game struggles aside, there was a lot to like about how the Celtics played throughout the first 40 minutes.

And a big part of that strong play has to be credited to Horford whose ability to help keep the ball moving allowed the Celtics to finish with 36 assists on 48 made field goals, the kind of opening night assist numbers that haven’t been seen around these parts in decades.

Horford was among those getting into the act, scoring 11 points to go with five rebounds and six assists.

To see him racking up guard-like assist numbers isn’t unusual when you consider he was third in the league last season in assists per game (3.2) for a center.

“Guys were moving the ball very well,” Horford said. “It’s kind of contagious.”

Said Crowder: “I never saw coaches clap on a three-second call. We moved the ball in the first quarter so much we got a three-second call. We passed up a lot of open shots. It just shows how unselfish we are playing as a unit.”

And while that selfless brand of basketball was on display at times last season, the addition of Horford seems to have taken it to another level.

“He opens the floor, he makes it easier for everybody; he’s always in the right spots, he’s a threat at all times,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “He can hit the 3, hit the mid-range, and also post up so he has the full package; a guy that makes it easy for everybody.”

Stars, studs and duds: Win vs. Nets 'a good learning experience' for Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Win vs. Nets 'a good learning experience' for Celtics

BOSTON –  Throughout the course of this season, the Boston Celtics will learn plenty of lessons about itself.

Sometimes it takes time to sift through the nuances of a game and figure out what should be extrapolated from it.

Following Wednesday’s 122-117 it-should-have-never-been-that-close victory over the Brooklyn Nets, there was no mistaking the Celtics came away feeling as though they survived a game in which they let up too soon and allowed a scrappy Nets team to make it more of a game than it should have been.

After Tyler Zeller drained an 18-foot jumper with 7:36 to play, Boston held a commanding 112-89 lead.

Brooklyn went on a 28-8 run to make it a one-possession game with 6.8 seconds to play.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens explained the late-game collapse afterwards.

“We started shooting bad shots and not guarding and throwing it to the other team,” Stevens said. “It’s how quickly it can change; we all know that.”

Because Boston had such a commanding lead and they were opening the season with a back-to-back with a Thursday night game at Chicago, it made sense for Stevens to give his core guys a chance to rest in the fourth quarter.

“I was hopeful not to have to put those guys back in but I probably went a little bit longer than I normally would have, not doing that,” Stevens said. “So we’ve got to play better in that moment.”

Boston’s Jae Crowder acknowledged he and Boston’s other starters were not as locked in as they should have been when Stevens put them back in the game with 2:07 to play.

“We had checked out a little bit mentally and physically,” Crowder said. “Our bodies were not warmed up enough to do what we did. But we got it done. We’re just going to learn from it and move on to Chicago.”

Said Horford: “That’s the NBA sometimes; it’ll humble you. It’s a good learning experience for our group.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s season-opening win over Brooklyn Wednesday night.



Isaiah Thomas

He was there when the Celtics needed him most, making a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds to play that sealed the victory. He finished with a game-high 23 points and nearly had a double-double with nine assists to go with six rebounds and two steals.

Jae Crowder

Crowder set the tone in the first quarter, and it was his shot-making early in the third that led Boston to being well-positioned for victory. He would finish with 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting to go with five rebounds two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Bojan Bogdanovic

His 3-point shooting in the second half was a major key to Brooklyn’s rally to within just three points. He led Brooklyn with 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting.



Al Horford

He doesn’t put up the sexiest, eye-grabbing numbers, but Horford’s steady play continues to impress. He had 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting, in addition tallying six assists, five rebounds and four blocked shots.

Avery Bradley

The 6-foot-2 guard had a strong game that easily glided under the radar of some of his teammates. But Bradley still finished with 17 points which included a put-back lay-up of his own miss in the fourth quarter for Boston’s only field goal in the final 4:18 of play.

Justin Hamilton

Make no mistake about it, Hamilton will become a prominent part of the scouting report when these two teams meet again. He came off the Brooklyn bench to finish with a double-double of 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting, to go with 10 rebounds.



Brook Lopez

At no point did Lopez look comfortable or impactful for the Nets. He was a non-factor in every sense of the word, missing six of his seven shot attempts to finish with just seven points and five rebounds.

Celtics bench

This group had flashes of good play here and there, but their inability to close out the game in the fourth was a bit disturbing. Not having Marcus Smart (left ankle sprain) was a factor. That said, a 23-point lead with under eight minutes to play should be more than enough of a cushion not to require the starters to have to come back in the game.