It’s that time of year when red kettles dot the landscape, each guarded by Salvation Army volunteers steadfast in their bell-ringing duties, all hoping a charitable soul can drop in a few coins for the needy.
Yes, it’s the season of giving.
And a week before Christmas, the Celtics were in a most generous mood Wednesday. They decided they didn’t need the ball on 18 possessions, so they handed it to the Detroit Pistons on each of them.
How festive. How thoughtful.
The Pistons were quite grateful, and they turned that hearty bounty of donations into 30 points, which, as the Celtics looked back, is also why the Pistons departed TD Garden with a 107-106 victory.
“Clearly, 30 points off turnovers is not going to do you much good,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
Said Jared Sullinger: “Turnovers really messed us up today.”
Said Avery Bradley: “We turned the ball over a lot, that’s the real reason we lost the game.”
At the start of the season, the Celtics averaged about 20 turnovers in their first four games. The Celtics also lost their first four games.
(You can probably figure out why.)
But they had patched this part of their game up in recent weeks, taking care of the ball much better.
And then came Wednesday, when the Celtics had their most turnovers since recording 21 in a Nov. 22 loss to Indiana — 13 games ago.
The story line would have changed had Jeff Green made a last-second shot, a running one-hander in the lane with 6-foot-9-inch Josh Smith in his grill.
But Green’s shot did not fall, leaving the Celtics to regret how often they gave their opponent extra chances, which is how the game turned after the Celtics got off to a blistering first-quarter start.
“Turnovers led to their transition points, gave them easy looks and gave them a rhythm and allowed them to get a lead and take over the game,” said Green, who had 13 points and seven rebounds.
The Celtics once had a vice grip on the game. They scored 42 points in the first quarter — their highest total in any quarter all season, besting their previous high of 39 — after shooting a sizzling 70 percent from the floor.
By the second quarter, the Celtics had a 21-point lead, and it looked as if they were out for blood after having lost by double-digits on the road to the Pistons last month.
But the Pistons used an 11-0 run in the third quarter to cut Boston’s lead to 1. Later, the Pistons took their first lead, 74-73.
As usual with these Celtics, the game ground down to the final minute, with a win in reach for either team.
Sullinger hit a huge 3-pointer from the right side to cap a 10-2 run and give the Celtics a 105-104 lead with 1:00 left.
But Brandon Jennings answered on the Pistons’ next possession, drilling an in-your-face 3-pointer with Bradley in his airspace.
Later, after a Sullinger free throw, Jennings missed a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left, giving the Celtics the ball and a chance to take the lead with one basket on the game’s final play.
With five seconds left, the ball went to Green, who drove hard right on Smith.
Green’s shot did not fall, and so the Celtics’ two-game winning streak was snapped, dropping them to 12-15.
Those two wins weren’t spotless. The Celtics had hiccups in each of them.
But they were undersized against the mammoth Pistons, and outmatched against their speedy backcourt.
So, the Celtics didn’t need to be flawless against the Pistons, but they needed to be in the same ZIP code.
“It looked like it was just contagious,” Bradley said. “Everybody turned it over a little bit.”
Seven Celtics had at least two turnovers.
“It happened time and again,” Stevens said. “It happened to everybody. It’s not like it was one person or two people, you can go down the list.
“It happened to a lot of guys, we didn’t react well enough to just get it to the other side of the floor a little bit quicker.
“Again, credit them, there’s two teams on the floor, again, they are talented. They’re really talented.”
The Celtics’ mistakes turned into offensive lulls — they scored half as many points in the second quarter (21) as they did in the first, and they had just 18 points in the third quarter, when the Pistons took the lead.
“We just forced the issue a little bit too much,” said Sullinger, who had team highs of 19 points and 8 rebounds, and also had 4 assists. “Detroit kind of turned up their effort and intensity on the defensive end and allowed them to get easy layups and run-outs and put-back dunks because we were always scrambling.”
Were the Celtics lackadaisical after their hot opening quarter?
“I totally agree with that,” Sullinger said. “We got too comfortable and we got casual with the ball. That’s when we’re supposed to tighten up the most.”
All five Celtics starters scored in double figures. Jordan Crawford had 17 points and six assists.
But Jennings was the star, with 28 points and 14 assists. He made five 3-pointers. Andre Drummond scored 14 and grabbed 16 rebounds, and Smith added 20 points.
“You know, the easy part is to say that we were up (21) and we didn’t hold on, but the bottom line is they outplayed us for 36 minutes out of 48,” Stevens said.
“So we outplayed them for 12, and it wasn’t good enough. And it’s not going to be good enough. They turned us over, and that was the difference in the game, I thought.”
Few in attendance for another heart-pounding Celtics game at the Garden could argue. The Celtics were in a charitable mood, and so they helped give Detroit more help than the much bigger, more-talented Pistons even needed. The final result was justified.