The Celtics began and ended Monday night still very much in control of the Eastern Conference by way of their 18-4 record, but they may have found a new legitimate threat in the Pistons, who defeated them by a 118-108 final at TD Garden.
This is not something I expected to say about the Pistons, a team that the Celtics had defeated in four of their last five head-to-head meetings, but that was before seeing the impact of Celtic-turned-Piston Avery Bradley and the reinvigorated Andre Drummond. It’s a Detroit duo — complemented by strong nights from Tobias Harris (a game-high 31 points) and 70 percent shooting from Reggie Jackson (20 points in 28 minutes), too — that provided an obviously difficult matchup for some the Green’s best talents in their first meeting of the year.
The Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, who ended the night with a 6-for-16 mark from the floor and team-high six turnovers, was a thoroughly minus player when Bradley was on the court. You had a feeling this was going to happen, too, as Bradley forced Irving into an uncharacteristic backcourt violation about five minutes into the first quarter of play. Bradley, like he did for the Celtics for nearly 500 games, wasted no time in making the other team’s biggest threat extraordinarily uncomfortable.
“I think they’ve been doing that all year… putting Avery [Bradley] on point guards. We were OK with it. We weren’t at our best handling it,” Al Horford admitted. “But at the end of the day, you gotta give them credit. They were the team that was more ready.”
“They tried to take the ball out of Kyrie’s hands and they did it pretty successfully,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens, whose team allowed a season-high 118 points, admitted.
With Irving neutralized, the Celtics instead looked for contributions from their second-best player.
But Horford (and everybody else, for that matter) struggled to match with Drummond as well, as Drummond rolled to a ridiculous 26 points and 22 rebounds in 39 minutes.
“Drummond has greatly improved as now a playmaker out of the high post, which is a big difference from what he’s done in the past,” said Stevens. “Tobias Harris’ improvement has been tremendous, and obviously they have really good guards.”
But even with Drummond rolling and Bradley slowing Irving down more than most have been able to this year, it was those aforementioned turnovers that doomed the Celtics.
On a night that saw the Celtics shoot over 50 percent from the field (and convert on 16 of their 33 attempted three-pointers), 17 Boston turnovers put the ball back in Detroit’s hands more than it needed to be, and took the ball and their fate out of their hands. The Pistons capitalized on that, too, with 25 points off C’s turnovers. And beyond the points and efficiency (the Pistons’ 44 makes were the most allowed by the Celtics this season), it allowed the Pistons to completely control the pace of this game.
“I thought all of [the Pistons] were very good,” Stevens said of the high-tempo Pistons and their defense. “Obviously Avery [Bradley] at the point of attack on defense was great, but I thought they were really good. They played with great pace, great purpose. They were really good tonight, [and] they’ve been really good most of the year.”
“They executed,” Marcus Smart, who led all C’s shooters with 23 points in the losing effort, said after the game. “They ran what they wanted to run and got what they wanted. We didn’t really do a good job of focusing on what we should have focused on.”
But unlike Smart channeling his inner Larry Bird and going 6-for-9 from downtown (and with two of those misses coming with desperation heaves from near halfcourt), this is not a one-night thing when you’re talking about the Pistons. Led by Bradley’s signature end-to-end relentlessness and Drummond’s status as one of the league’s elite big men (and in a better situation than ever before), this is who they are.
The Celtics know this better than anybody else, too.
Is there a way to get Bradley off Irving? Barring early foul trouble for the straight-up annoying Bradley, probably not. And there’s no way to rebuild Horford’s frame to make it a better head-to-head matchup against the 7-foot, physically punishing, and ever-improving Drummond. Is that where Aron Baynes steps up and plays a bigger role for the Celtics? Perhaps, but that’s where the lineup’s overall productivity may dip.
“They’ve been a tough matchup for a lot of teams. And I don’t think that’s anything [new],” Stevens said of his team’s apparently difficult on-court matchups with the Pistons. “They’re well-coached. They run good stuff. I love what they’re doing.”
They’re allowed to love it while it’s not above them in the East, with 3.5 games of wiggle room still separating the Celtics from what appears to be their most challenging competition.
JBL Audio Stat of the Game: Marcus Smart was 6-of-9 on 3-pointers in the loss.
Full article @ Pistons 118, Celtics 108: A new challenger emerges for Celtics
Source: GreenStreet Blog