AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The NBA game is a thing of beauty most nights. But Sunday's game between Boston and Detroit left a lot to be desired.
Lots of turnovers by both teams, free throws being bricked ... a game that at times was painful to watch.
And for the Celtics who escaped with a 104-98 win, this might have been the most beautiful game they've played all season.
Teams that rely on the 3-ball as much as Boston does, typically don't do well in the postseason.
They tend to be more finesse than physical, more marshmallow-soft than mallet-hard.
But there was nothing soft about the way Boston played Detroit, a team that usually tosses them around like a rag doll around the glass.
Not on Sunday, a night in which Boston won the battle of the boards 52-45.
And it was a slow-drip killing by Boston on the glass against Detroit, finishing each quarter with an overall rebounding advantage which speaks to how they never really allowed the Pistons to gain any significant traction on the boards.
The Pistons, like they always seem to do, didn’t make things easy for the Celtics.
They blitzed Isaiah Thomas, forcing someone taller than 5-foot-9 on Boston's roster who averages less than 29 points per game, to step up.
There was Jae Crowder delivering a stealth job scoring and on the boards before finishing with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Marcus Smart was effectively crashing the glass with four of his five rebounds being of the offensive variety.
And then there was Jaylen Brown, the only rookie of significance to play in the game. He did more than just score 13 points, but delivered a back-breaking dagger of a 3-ball in front of the Celtics’ bench with 37.3 seconds to play that put the Celtics ahead 98-86.
This was the kind of performance by the Celtics that speaks to a team that’s starting to develop a deeper understanding that they're going to have to do more than just knock down 3's in order to truly be successful, especially on nights like Sunday when they didn't play one of their best games.
There was a stretch in the third quarter that on most nights would have been the demise of this Celtics team.
Leading 67-52 following a 3-pointer by Thomas with 9:06 to play in the quarter, Boston went nearly four minutes without scoring a single point, a span in which the Pistons scored 11 points.
“We started (the third quarter) out bad,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “I think we had six or seven turnovers in a row and things weren’t going our way. But we stayed together, kept fighting and things started turning for us in the end. We made plays down the stretch.”
Withstanding a slew of mistakes while still being able to defend well enough to hold on to a lead, is something the Celtics haven’t done nearly enough of this season.
But when they failed in this area earlier this season, there was always the possibility of addressing this via a trade at the deadline.
But that ship has sailed.
And the Celtics players, whether they want to embrace it or not, have to step up and secure the number two seed or better, in the East.
Doing so means getting the job on nights like Sunday when their best play isn’t present.
Doing so means winning a game with Isaiah Thomas giving you less than 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Doing so has to become more than a goal, but an expectation for Boston.
And Detroit was a great opportunity for them to do just that.
To Boston’s credit, they did just enough to leave the Palace of Auburn Hills for the last time (the team will move to downtown Detroit and play at the Little Caesars Arena next season) with a victory that was hard-earned and by anyone’s definition far from a thing of beauty.
And that folks, is what makes this victory just that … a thing of beauty for a team that has visions of parlaying a strong showing following the All-Star break into a deep playoff run that will surely be one in which they will not always play their best but still must find a path to success.
Smart for one was pleased with the Celtics winning in a not-so-aesthetically pleasing style.
“You don’t want to win pretty,” Smart said. “Especially getting ready for the playoffs and things like that. Games aren’t going to be pretty; there’s going to be some ugly games. The team that’s willing to get down and dirty is the team that’s going to come out of the series.”