Celtics-Pistons preview: Taking care of business

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Celtics-Pistons preview: Taking care of business

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. The journey that is the 2012-2013 Celtics season has been a winding one that has made it hard to predict what's around the next turn.

That element of the unexpected aside, one thing the C's should be able to count on is to beat the teams they should. And for all that has not gone according to plan, the Celtics have remained relatively consistent in that department: Boston comes into tonight's game against the Detroit Pistons with a sparkling 3-0 record against teams that are at or below .500.

Now beating those teams certainly doesn't provide an adequate barometer as far as figuring out if the C's do in fact belong among the NBA's elite. The true test of that won't come until the playoffs.

In the meantime, Boston has to continue finding ways to win the games they are supposed to win -- games against teams that are struggling like Detroit.

"We have been pretty good about winning the games we're supposed to," Celtics guard Courtney Lee said. "That just comes about treating every opponent the same. You don't want to get in the habit of getting too high for some teams, and not for others. We've been pretty good about that so far this season."

It is a trend the Celtics would like to continue tonight against a Detroit, which has dropped nine of its first 10 games -- matching the worst 10-game start to a season in franchise history.

Here are some other keys to keep tabs on tonight as the Celtics try to build off of Saturday's 107-89 win over Toronto.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics kept Kevin Garnett's minutes down to just 17 on Saturday, which is an ideal tally on the front end of a back-to-back set of games. That had a lot to do with Boston's second unit uncharacteristically extending the team's lead when he left the game on Saturday. The C's increased their lead when Garnett left the floor in all but one quarter of their 107-89 win over Toronto. It's worth monitoring to see if they can repeat that success.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Brandon Knight: Rondo played a very Rondo-like game with 20 assists against Toronto on Saturday after missing the previous game with a right ankle sprain. Knight will be the latest up-and-coming talented point guard who will see Rondo as a litmus test as far as how they stack up to the game's premier playmakers. The second-year guard is averaging 11.3 points and 7.1 assists this season. Only two other players from the 2011 draft (Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker) are averaging at least 10 points and five assists per game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jared Sullinger had a nice bounce-back game with 12 points and 11 rebounds against Toronto after logging less than eight minutes in Brooklyn on Thursday. It will be interesting to see if he can bring that same level of intensity and production to the floor tonight.

STAT TO TRACK: With or without Rajon Rondo in the lineup, you can count on the Celtics racking up a high number of assists per game. They come into tonight's matchup averaging a league-best 25.3. For all that has gone wrong for Detroit this season, the Pistons have done a fairly decent job of limiting the assists of opponents. Teams are averaging 20.4 against Detroit this season, the sixth-best mark in the league.

Smart: 'We can’t just depend on Isaiah to save us'

Smart: 'We can’t just depend on Isaiah to save us'

TORONTO – Marcus Smart and the Boston Celtics aren’t all that different than most Celtics fans.

When the fourth quarter rolls around, they too take a glance at their watches and think … it’s Isaiah Thomas Time.

He was on the floor in the decisive fourth quarter for the Celtics, but you would not have known it by his inability to do what he has done for so much of this season which is dominate play.

And with Thomas unable to take over in the fourth like he’s accustomed to doing, the end result was an all-too-predictable night of late-game struggles as the Toronto Raptors pulled away for a 107-97 win.

Thomas still led the Celtics with 20 points, although only four – that’s almost seven below his league-leading average - came in the fourth quarter.

“Every time I came off a pick, they had two or three guys on me,” Thomas said. “Their point of emphasis was probably to stop me in the fourth quarter and they did a good job of that. They played harder than us in the second half.”

Boston led by as many as 17 points in the first half with solid contributions coming from several players.

But more important, they held their own on the boards while not allowing Toronto many second or third-shot opportunities.

That all changed in the second half.

Toronto became more aggressive defensively, taking away the air space of seemingly every Celtics shooter.

And offensively, DeRozan got hot and when the Celtics took away his drives, he found teammates open for shots that were relatively wide open looks due to them collapsing to help out on DeRozan who led all players with 43 points on 15-for-28 shooting.

Smart had 19 points off the bench on 6-for-15 shooting. Jae Crowder also had 19 points on 6-for-12 shooting for Boston (37-21). And then there was Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown chipping in with 13 points.

Despite their numbers, there was sense that Thomas was getting very little help offensively.

And when you combine that with the team’s overall struggles to play solid defense and rebound the ball, it put the Celtics in a predicament where the clearest path towards victory would once again be Thomas coming through in the fourth quarter.

For those watching the game on CSN, it was an ideal time for Thomas to do what we’ve seen him do time and time again.

But there was a problem.

Apparently too many of his teammates did their share of Thomas-watching down the stretch as well.

“We can’t just depend on Isaiah to save us,” Smart said. “He needs help; other guys need to step up and relieve Isaiah. When he does get that shot, he’s open. They have to watch out for us. We can’t just put it all on Isaiah’s shoulders. Sometimes we get caught doing that instead of helping Isaiah.”

Stars, studs and duds: Things get a bit heated between Celtics and Raptors

Stars, studs and duds: Things get a bit heated between Celtics and Raptors

TORONTO – While no one would go so far as to say that the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors have a full-fledged rivalry, things got a bit testy on Friday.

No play better exemplified this than the Isaiah Thomas drive to the basket in the second quarter that was initially ruled a foul by DeMarre Carroll only to be upgraded to a flagrant-one penalty.

And then less than a minute later, Thomas was called for a flagrant-one penalty when he made contact with DeMar DeRozan.

Thomas was clearly upset with the Celtics losing 107-97, a defeat that included a slew of plays that bothered Thomas but none more than the flagrant foul committed by Carroll.

“It was intentional, did you see it?” Thomas said when asked about it afterwards. “That’s not a basketball play by any means. Guys who aren’t factors in games do that; it is what it is. That was not a basketball play whatsoever.”

That play added to what had been a night of struggles for Thomas who finished with 20 points which barely kept his streak of games with 20 or more points alive which now stands at a franchise-record 42 games.

“We gave this game away. We had it,” Thomas said.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Friday night’s game.

 

STARS

DeMar DeRozan

He was an All-Star starter this season, and played like one on a night when he needed to carry and even heavier scoring load than usual with Kyle Lowry (right wrist) a last-minute scratch from the starting lineup. DeRozan led all scorers with 43 points, doing so on an efficient 15-for-28 shooting in addition to dishing out five assists and grabbing five rebounds.

 

STUDS

P.J. Tucker

The numbers don’t begin to speak to the impact that Tucker made on this game. His defense, switching and physical play were all factors that contributed heavily to the win. In his first game as a Raptor, he had a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.

Jaylen Brown

You look around and he was the only rookie for either team to get on the floor, let alone make an impact. Brown did a lot of good things for the Celtics, scoring 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting.

Serge Ibaka

Well it looks like the Raptors got the O-K-C Ibaka and not the one who struggled mightily in Orlando. He had 15 points in his Raptors debut on 7-for-12 shooting while grabbing seven rebounds.

Jae Crowder

After being in a shooting funk for most of this month, Crowder delivered a strong performance on Friday with 19 points on 6-for-12 shooting which included 4-for-9 on 3’s.

 

DUDS

Celtics’ second-half defense

This was not one of Boston’s finer moments, as the Raptors turned up the intensity at both ends of the floor and the Celtics never were able to match it. Toronto shot 52.4 percent in the second half, outscored Boston 26-12 on points in the paint and held a 12-5 advantage in second-chance points while keeping the Celtics scoreless in the second half in fast-break points.