After the Celtics’ impressive win over Toronto on Thursday, coach Brad Stevens made it clear that he was pleased, but he wanted to see a similar effort sustained for a longer period before he declared it a true sign of progress.
Then on Friday night the six-win Pistons came to TD Garden and showed that one step forward would be followed by one step back, as Detroit overcame an early 10-point deficit and grabbed a 108-102 win.
Rookie Saddiq Bey pummeled the Celtics, drilling all seven of his 3-point attempts en route to 30 points, none bigger than his 3 from the right arc with 38.3 seconds left that stretched his team’s lead to 101-95, moments after Daniel Theis missed a potentially game-tying attempt.
Jayson Tatum had 33 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists to lead the Celtics, but his cool shooting stretch continued with a 9 for 22 outing. Jaylen Brown had 27 points.
The Celtics trailed by 13 with 10:40 left before clawing back and pulling within 95-93 on a pair of Theis free throws at the 2:10 mark, but the comeback stalled there.
“Obviously, we’d love to be winning every game we play right now, but we can learn a lot from every game we play, regardless if we win or not,” Tatum said. “We’re learning a lot about ourselves right now.”
Observations from the game:
▪ Theis entered the night shooting 45.1 percent from beyond the 3-point line this season, providing an unlikely lift for Boston. But he was 0 for 4 on Friday, including two misses in critical spots.
With the Celtics trailing 93-87 with 5:30 left in the game, he was short on a wide open look from the top of the key. Then with 1:04 left and Boston trailing 98-95 Tatum picked up his dribble when he was slowed by Delon Wright at the right arc. He flipped a pass to Theis, who was trailing the play, and then made a backdoor cut.
But when two defenders veered in Tatum’s direction, Theis stepped behind the line — with no defender within 10 feet of him — and left another 3-pointer short. Generally his attempts come on catch-and-shoots, so the movement on this play might have been slightly out of his comfort zone. It’s hard to argue with such a wide open look, but it also wouldn’t have been bad to get the ball to Tatum or Brown.
▪ The Celtics tied their season-high by registering 30 assists in their win over the Raptors. The ball movement was crisp and concise, and it seemed like something to build on. Instead, there was substantial regression Friday, with Boston tying its season-low with 15 assists. That statistic can be somewhat fickle, because a few missed open shots can dent progress, but the offense generally seemed more stagnant.
“The thing that did not carry over from last night was the ball movement,” Stevens said. “And that made it difficult to find great looks. And as a result, I think we struggled.”
▪ Bey was no secret to the Celtics. He made 7 of 11 3-pointers in the two games between these teams in Detroit earlier this season. Stevens said that when the Celtics watched film on Friday morning, Bey was a focus of the study.
“He was a huge emphasis,” Stevens said. “We just didn’t guard him well.”
Bey was 4 for 4 in the first half and then connected on all three of his attempts in the second. He also added 12 rebounds for good measure.
▪ Semi Ojeleye once again started for Boston, and he picked up where he left off on Thursday, drilling a 3-pointer from the right corner on the Celtics’ first possession. He was active on the defensive end and had 9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in 23 minutes.
But his solid night was cut short when he injured his right leg after being called for a charge with 6:18 left in the third quarter.
“That was a loss the way that he’s playing right now,” Stevens said. “So we’re hopeful that’s not anything major, that it becomes a day-to-day type thing. Losing wings is tough, because you lose a lot of versatility and a lot of ability to guard 1-4. Semi’s really gotten better at that and he’s had a couple of good scoring games.”
▪ If the Pistons were a college team they’d be hoping that their list of quality wins would make up for their poor record and be enough to get them into the NCAA tournament. Detroit has just seven wins this season, the third fewest in the NBA, but they have come against the Celtics (twice), Lakers, Nets, Sixers, Heat and Suns.
Stevens said after Friday’s loss that Detroit’s tough, physical style poses matchup difficulties for Boston, and that’s been clear. In addition to the two losses, the Celtics needed a Tatum buzzer-beater to avoid being 0-3 against the Pistons this season.
▪ With Kemba Walker sitting out to rest his knee on the second night of a back-to-back and Marcus Smart still sidelined because of a calf strain, rookie Payton Pritchard drew his first career start for the Celtics. He might prefer to be a bench sparkplug, though, because he went just 1 for 5 with 2 points and 1 assist in 28 minutes, 43 seconds.
▪ Brown and Tatum were constantly trapped and double-teamed in Thursday’s win over Toronto, keeping their point totals down and getting their assist totals up. But they were able to operate in a lot more one-on-one situations against the Pistons and they took advantage. Brown, in particular, carved up Detroit’s defense with several strong and swift drives. He exploited aging veteran Blake Griffin several times.
▪ One play that will drive Stevens crazy: After Javonte Green scored inside in the second quarter, the Pistons inbounded the ball and caught Boston’s defense sleeping as Bey streaked in for a dunk as he was fouled. That can’t happen.
▪ Robert Williams missed his second consecutive game because of hip soreness.