AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – It might as well had been the original Bad Boys out there Sunday at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Thomas, Rodman, Laimbeer, Dumars and Mahorn would have been proud of their younger brethren for their methodical pounding of an exhausted Celtics team that played with little passion.
After they looked determined to overcome fatigue with a spirited first quarter, the Celtics were inept offensively over the next two frames and looked like a team playing its fourth game in five nights. The Pistons, losers of nine of their first 10 games, looked nearly flawless, punishing the Celtics 103-83, scoring with relative ease against a flustered opponent.
Detroit entered Sunday having allowed 100 or more points in six of its first 10 games but the Celtics missed countless open shots or made unforced turnovers. Over the second and third quarters, the Celtics were 12-for-38 shooting and outscored 48-32, a testament to their fatigue.
Usually automatic jumpers clanged off the rim. In one third-quarter possession, reliable long-range shooter Jason Terry missed two wide-open 3-pointers and was 0-f0r-4 for the night. The Celtics saved face statistically by shooting 58.8 percent in the fourth quarter but those points were hollow. Detroit led by as many as 22 in the quarter with coach Lawrence Frank clearing his bench.
For the Celtics, it was a disappointing end to a seven-game, 10-day excursion.
“You know I tried to junk the game up, go small, and we just didn’t have it,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I mean we won’t have another stretch like this the entire season. When I saw the schedule, I saw that last game and I said, ‘this is going to be a hard game for us.’ I thought we could figure a way of pulling out we just couldn’t.”
The lone suspense was whether Rajon Rondo would extend his consecutive streak of double-digit assists to 34 games and he didn’t record his 10th until 51.3 seconds left on Jared Sullinger’s 21-footer.
Other than that, Sunday was a nightmare. Paul Pierce left with a sprained right ankle. The Celtics committed 18 turnovers and were outscored in the paint 44-30. The Pistons were primed for a breakout night and vented their frustrations on the unassuming Celtics.
Sullinger led the Celtics with 16 points off the bench while six Pistons scored in double figures, led by Greg Monroe’s 20. He added 13 rebounds.
It wasn’t that the Celtics didn’t try; they couldn’t even complete simple passes or complete fastbreaks. Rondo had a season-high six turnovers and the team collected a season-worst 30 rebounds.
“It seems like we just didn’t have energy all night,” said Pierce, who said he would be ready for Wednesday’s game with San Antonio. “We tried to muster it up besides the sloppy play and the turnovers. I think it was just one of those nights, a lot of open looks, a lot of them fell short, which led to a lot of easy baskets. It’s one of those games you just throw away. You don’t even look back at it. Just move on from it.”
The frustration really surfaced in the third quarter when the offense looked ragged and the defense couldn’t stop dribble penetration or Jason Maxiell off the pick-and-roll. In one sequence, Rondo drove to the basket and lobbed an alley-oop near Kevin Garnett, who parked himself under the basket believing it was a shot. The ball bounced harmlessly out of bounds.
Maxiell scored 8 points in the quarter, including a rainbow 18-footer for a 67-53 lead with 1:53 left. The Celtics were seemingly in striking distance but it became apparent they had little fight left. Rivers pulled the starters and went with the bench in the final few minutes of the quarter and Leandro Barbosa and Sullinger each scored to reduce the deficit to 71-57.
Courtney Lee drained a 3-pointer to slice the margin to 75-63 with 10:16 left, but after a Pistons technical free throw for defensive three seconds, Will Bynum drained a corner 3-pointer for a 16-point Detroit lead and the Celtics knew they were fried.
“Tonight was one of those nights where, I don’t know for some reason some of the same shots we made (Saturday against Toronto) wasn’t falling tonight,” Garnett said. “I usually tell kids learning the game of basketball when the shot hits front rim it usually means fatigue. It means you don’t have enough lift to get the ball up. I saw a lot of shots short. I thought for the most part we fought but a younger, more encouraged team came out and played well.”
Energy wasn’t an issue in the early going as the Celtics raced out to a 17-11 lead in the first seven minutes thanks to sparkling ball movement and balanced scoring. All five starters scored in that span and the Celtics showed no after-effects of playing three games in the past four days.
The Pistons went with their scoring-heavy bench and the combination of Rodney Stuckey, who generally flourishes against the Celtics, and journeyman Corey Maggette sparked a rally early in the second quarter that changed the game.
A 6-0 Detroit run in the final two minutes of the half, including a long rainbow jumper by Maxiell extended the Detroit lead to 48-40 and the Celtics looked frustrated. Rondo eased some of those tensions with a 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds left, his second of the game and fifth of the season. Rondo made 10 3-pointers all of last season.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe