Celtics-Pistons review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Pistons review: What we saw . . .

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.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Knicks

WATCH: Celtics vs. Knicks

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics host the Knicks at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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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.”