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.