AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The ball just refused to drop through the bucket. It wasn’t surprising. The Celtics haven’t received many breaks during this tumultuous season, so why would matters change Saturday night.
Jerryd Bayless’s potential go-ahead 3-pointer rattled around the rim at the Palace at Auburn Hills four times, including one in which the ball rolled out in the final 10 seconds. After Brandon Jennings was fouled, Bayless fell to his knees at midcourt in disgust.
After the Celtics played a masterful three quarters against the Detroit Pistons, they again collapsed when the moment required fortitude. The Pistons ended the game on an 8-0 run and won, 115-111, storming back from a 19-point third-quarter deficit. It was the Celtics’ eighth straight loss.
The Celtics were outscored, 30-16, in the fourth quarter, as Boston missed 16 of 23 shots in the final period. Following one of their most disappointing losses of the season Friday night against the downtrodden Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics allowed the Pistons to rally for a dramatic win.
“It’s a tough one,” said Bayless, who led the Celtics with 25 points. “It happens and you’ve got to move on from it. It’s pretty difficult. The last couple of games before this, it’s pretty apparent we haven’t been playing well. We weren’t playing together and things weren’t connected and people weren’t on the same page in here. Today we felt like we really did play well and we had a spurt where we left off the gas and you can’t do that in the NBA.”
Boston led, 82-63, after a Bayless 3-pointer with 7:40 left but the Celtics would score just 29 points over the next 19:40 while the Pistons bench sparked a mini-rally to end the third quarter. Just 4:48 into the fourth, the Pistons took the lead on a Jonas Jerebko 3-pointer at 100-99.
The game between two draft lottery teams began intense and meaningful. They traded baskets but the Celtics used a 3-pointer by Bayless and a tip-in by Phil Pressey, who filled in admirably for Rajon Rondo, to give them a 111-107 lead with 2:51 left.
But as has been their pattern all the season, the Celtics couldn’t close out. They wouldn’t score again, missing their final eight shots, including the Bayless 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds left that would have given the Celtics the lead.
“This is a tough one, a really, really tough one,” forward Brandon Bass said. “That’s all I can really say about it. We’re out there fighting and we really wanted to win bad. It’s just tough. I know we’re pressing right now to get another win.”
The Celtics allowed 60 second-half points as they were unable to stop the Pistons in transition or curtail their fouling. Detroit attempted 20 free throws in the second half to the Celtics’ four. And while Bayless and Jared Sullinger were carrying the offense, Jeff Green again couldn’t follow up a brilliant first half.
After scoring 19 points in the first 24 minutes, Green followed with 4 points on 2-of-9 shooting in the second half. And while the Celtics were 8 of 12 from the 3-point line in the first half, they were 6 of 19 in the second.
“Well first of all, we made a boatload of shots there in a row,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the first half. “I thought we let off the game defensively in transition a couple of times and now all of a sudden instead of a 19-point game, it’s a 12- or 13-point game and the momentum is swinging and your shots get tougher.
“But we did not get as good of looks in the last 18 minutes. But they obviously had their way in the interior as expected.”
Without Kris Humphries (right patella tendon), the undersized Celtics were pummeled on the boards in the second half (26-13) and Andre Drummond finished with 19 points and 20 rebounds while Rodney Stuckey picked up 26 points off the bench.
Green tallied 19 points and Sullinger added 12 as the Celtics led by as many as 14 in the first half, and finished with a 65-55 lead at the break. Stevens needed production from the starting lineup and the quintet combined for 56 points, 14 assists, and 16 rebounds in dominating the Pistons.
The Celtics can be a difficult opponent when the long-range shots fall, and they did in the first 24 minutes. Green hit three of the Celtics’ eight first-half 3-pointers while Bayless and Sullinger each canned two. Kelly OIynyk played nearly 15 minutes off the bench in the first half and had 9 points along with six rebounds.
Playing with a passion and execution not seen in weeks, the Celtics shot 60 percent in the first quarter, led by Green, who once again displayed his maddening inconsistency.
Green attempted eight shots in 33 minutes during Friday night’s 111-102 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. He attempted seven in the first quarter Saturday night as the Celtics raced to a 32-29 lead. Green scored 11 points while Brandon Bass and Sullinger each added 8.
But the Celtics couldn’t follow through in the second half, shooting 41.3 percent and one field goal in the final four minutes.
“Their size played a factor at the end,” Stevens said. “We had nine guys out there and they were playing. They all played pretty hard.”Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gwashNBAGlobe.