AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Three games, three losses.
The Celtics have had their moments in each of them, battling back from deficits to halt potential blowouts, but their record does not reflect moments.
It only reflects the final outcome, the latest an 87-77 loss Sunday to the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
“We can take a piece of each of these games with us, right?” said Celtics rookie coach Brad Stevens. “But we’d like to put it all together and it’s going to be frustrating until we do.”
And then, Stevens uttered a phrase most associated with another coach of a professional team in New England, one that routed its opponent Sunday.
“It is what it is.”
Stevens added, “We’ve got to figure out a way, whether it’s personnel, or whether it’s something that we’re doing, to be more consistent throughout the game.”
Personnel-wise, the Celtics, who remain one of four winless NBA teams (Denver, Utah and Washington the others), were overmatched before ever stepping onto the hardwood here.
The Pistons are oversized, with a towering, talented and athletic frontline of 6-foot-11-inch Andre Drummond, 6-11 Greg Monroe, and 6-9 Josh Smith.
The Celtics, meanwhile, are undersized, with their only true center a 25-year-old NBA rookie who before this season was playing in Spain: 6-11 Vitor Faverani.
As expected, Drummond, Monroe, and Smith feasted on the Celtics, combining for 45 points and 28 rebounds. The Pistons scored 54 points around the bucket and had a 19-8 edge in second-chance points.
“They pounded us in the paint all night,” Stevens said. “That really hurt us. We were earning baskets. They were making them at the rim, not that we weren’t earning them too, but it’s just different.”
Still, the Celtics twice battled back, only to be foiled by their own follies.
They trailed by as much as 15 in the third quarter but took a two-point lead early in the fourth.
Then Kelly Olynyk, who scored a team-high 15 points off the bench, was tagged for three quick fouls, Jordan Crawford committed two consecutive run-killing turnovers, and then was hit with a technical foul for yelling at the referees.
After Detroit made the technical free throw, Brandon Jennings, who scored 14 in his season debut after sitting out with an impacted wisdom tooth and fractured jaw, buried a deep 3-pointer to cap a 10-0 Pistons’ run.
The Celtics again charged back, trimming a 10-point deficit to two in the fourth quarter with forward Jeff Green on the bench for all of it. But they had three late turnovers that killed their chances and fueled the Pistons’ game-ending 8-0 run.
Drummond, who started the game with three straight two-handed dunks, had 15 points and 12 rebounds. Monroe added 15 and 10, and Smith had 15 and 7.
As in other games, the Celtics came close to digging out of a steep hole — but not close enough.
“We’re kind of breaking the surface, but we can’t quite penetrate,” Olynyk said. “It’s a game of runs. We’re right there. We’ve just got to find a way to step on the gas a little bit harder at the end.”
Said Avery Bradley, who scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds, “We’re getting there. We’ve got to continue to work hard the whole game. I feel like we have spurts of playing hard and together, but not the entire game yet.”
Stevens praised the effort of his players late in the game, noting that they played hard and together, an issue that veteran Gerald Wallace had pointed out after the Celtics’ last loss, describing their play as “selfish.”
But untimely — and unsightly — errors slayed the Celtics’ comeback chances.
“For whatever reason, we fumbled the ball away a little bit at the end, but we really did that all night,” Stevens said, referencing the Celtics’ 24 turnovers that the Pistons turned into 21 points.
Stevens added that, overall, “I’m more pleased than not moving forward, especially with a couple of the individual performances.”
The game marked the first of five in seven nights in five cities for the Celtics.
From here, they play Monday against the Grizzlies in Memphis, Wednesday against the Utah Jazz at TD Garden, Friday against the Magic in Orlando, and Saturday against the Heat in Miami.
When asked how he had handled three straight losses to start his professional career, Stevens grimaced and said, “There’s 79 games left.
He conceded that he doesn’t take losses well, and that he’s trying to move forward.
“There’s no team that I’ve played yet that I haven’t been like, ‘Wow, he can do a lot,’ ” he said.
And that line is further evidence of a coach who is in the early stages of transitioning from the college game to the professional, where he’s coaching a team in the early stages of transitioning from what it was to what it is.
“We know we took some steps forward tonight,” Bradley said.
But their record does not reflect those steps, or the moments when they were close. It only reflects the outcome, which, through three games, has been the same.