AUBURN HILLS, Mich. Just when it seems the Boston Celtics can't possibly sink any lower with their play, they find a new way to stink up the place. Losing 96-81 to the Detroit Pistons in itself isn't too bad.
It's how they lost that's disturbing.
Boston's Paul Pierce probably said it best.
"We just pretty much gave them everything they wanted tonight," Pierce said.
Points in the paint. Second-chance points. Fast break points.
The Pistons got all of that, seemingly whenever they wanted to.
And so lies the Celtics, searching for direction in a season that's going nowhere fast.
We take a look at some of the factors - and there were a ton of them - that played a role in Boston dropping to .500 status for the first time since Jan. 31.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Forcing Detroit rookie point guard Brandon Knight into making mistakes has to be part of the Celtics' game plan. Like most rookies - especially point guards - Knight has had his share of up and down moments. Certainly one of the highlights of his season was Friday night when the Pistons beat Sacramento, and he had 10 assists without a single turnover. Indeed, his assist to turnover ratio in many ways, will be a key to tonight's outcome. In Detroit's 10 wins, he's averaging 4.4 assists to just 1.5 turnovers per game. In the 22 losses, his assist numbers dip to 3.2 per game, but there's a sizable jump in his turnovers, to 3.1 per game.
WHAT WE SAW - Knight came out looking to score, and found success with a couple of early 3-pointers. Because Detroit dominated the game in so many other facets of play, Knight's playmaking skills were never really much of a factor. That's a good thing too for Detroit, with Knight having just two assists while turning the ball over four times.
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Ray Allen vs. Rodney Stuckey: This was the matchup to watch when the two played last week, a matchup that was won decisively by Stuckey. Ray Allen showed signs in the second half of the Bulls loss on Thursday that he's on the verge of breaking out of his annual shooting slump. He had 12 points which included 3, 3-pointers. "It was good to see him make some," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "When it's not going in, you need to see it going in." That hasn't been an issue for Stuckey, who has scored at least 23 points in each of Detroit's last three games - his best scoring stretch of the season.
WHAT WE SAW - Although their scoring numbers are comparable - Allen had 13 points while Stuckey chipped in with 16 - this was a matchup once again won by Stuckey. His 16 points scored came on 2-for-10 shooting. His attacking style of play led to a 15 free throw attempts - the same number of attempts taken by the entire Celtics team. Not only did that result in a bunch of points from the line, but also put the Celtics in foul trouble which was the last thing they needed.
PLAYER TO WATCH - The Celtics have been in "strategic rest" mode with Kevin Garnett all season, but it's clear the condensed schedule is starting to impact the 16-year veteran. He missed his first game of the season last week with a hip flexor injury, and the C's are limiting what he does on the rare days when they practice. So far, the C's '5-5-5' plan with KG's minutes has been working. But Boston may consider modifying that slightly, depending on if they think a change will allow him to play with less pain.
WHAT WE SAW - Garnett did not play (personal matter), and once again his absence was evident. Despite not being nearly as dominant a player as he was just a couple years ago, there's no mistaking that "Big Ticket" is still a big part of this team's chances to win games. "I'm a skilled player that knows how to play, that looks forward to making other guys better," Garnett said following the C's loss at Chicago on Thursday. "I make the sacrifices for the betterment of the team. That's (who) I am."
STAT TO TRACK - The Pistons are a middle-of-the-pack 3-point shooting team, with a significant number of their long-balls coming from Ben Gordon. He single-handedly willed the Pistons to victory over Boston last week, connecting on 4-of-6 3-pointers in the fourth. Mind you, the rest of the Pistons were 0-for-6 on 3s. And when he's on from 3-point range, the Pistons win. In victories, he has connected on 50 percent of his 3-point shots. In losses, he's down to 39 percent.
WHAT WE SAW - This was yet another area in which the Pistons got exactly what they wanted. Detroit had a guard hurting them from 3-point range, but it wasn't Ben Gordon. It was Brandon Knight, who took a pair of 3s in the first quarter and made them both. As a team, Detroit shot 55.6 percent on 5-for-9 shooting. Meanwhile, the Celtics connected on 37.5 percent (6-for-16) of their 3s.