DETROIT— One night after he was named an All-Star for the third time, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum on Friday had a first half in which he didn’t really play like one. He made just 2 of 8 shots and scored 5 points, and when he came out onto the court for the start of the third quarter, former Celtics assistant Jerome Allen, who’s now a coach for Detroit, couldn’t resist the opportunity to rib his former pupil.
“He was like, ‘Yo, you might as well put a coach’s polo [shirt] on tonight,’ ” Tatum recalled, smiling. “And I was like, ‘All right, I got something for you.’ ”
The problem for Allen and the Pistons was that despite Tatum’s quiet start, Boston surged to a 15-point halftime lead. And then Tatum had an emphatic response to his former coach’s playful prodding, as he erupted for 19 points in the third quarter and guided Boston to a 102-93 win, its season-high fourth in a row.
“We obviously miss [Allen],” Tatum said, “especially the guys that built a relationship with him [during his six seasons in Boston]. But we were happy to beat him, because we wouldn’t have heard the last of it if we lost.”
While Tatum’s third-quarter explosion was satisfying for him, it might not have been needed. Boston once again received contributions throughout its roster and secured another wire-to-wire win, a welcome development recently after a tumultuous start to this season that was filled with blown leads and tense overtime games.
“[I like] the urgency and fight-back,” Celtics center Robert Williams said. “Earlier in the year, we would get leads like this and lose them. Obviously, teams are going to go on a run but I think we are doing a great job of keeping our composure to a certain extent, responding to their runs.”
With their sixth victory in the last seven games, the Celtics moved into eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. They are just one game behind the sixth-place Nets, and five games back of the first-place Bulls.
This recent rally has been crafted mostly against teams that are overmatched, undermanned, or both. But the Celtics dealt with plenty of their own absences earlier this year and are now showing they can be formidable when they are whole.
After Friday’s win, though, Tatum brushed off the notion that this recent uptick has given the team a much-needed confidence boost.
“I mean, we’ve always been confident, even when we were under .500,” he said. “Frustrated might have been a better word. But doubting ourselves, there was never any doubt in that locker room. Frustration, which was warranted with how we were playing and the results, and just frustrated because we knew how much better we could have been and still can be. We’ve got a lot of confident guys in that locker room.”
Tatum finished with 24 points and nine rebounds and was able to rest the entire fourth quarter. Williams added 11 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots.
The Celtics mostly set the tone with their defense, holding the Pistons to 32.7 percent shooting.
“Our physicality has been there, and we’re kind of buying into that defensive mentality and making it hard on teams every night,” coach Ime Udoka said.
The Celtics know their schedule will get considerably more challenging soon, so that makes it especially important not to botch relatively straightforward opportunities such as the matchup against the 12-win Pistons, who were without No. 1 overall draft pick Cade Cunningham.
But there was no let-up. Boston held Detroit to 16 points in the first quarter and 15 in the second, making Tatum’s slow start on offense easy to overcome.
The Celtics led by as many as 19 early in the third quarter before the Pistons clawed back. But one subtle play by Marcus Smart might have been the biggest of the period. With Detroit trailing, 63-49, it knocked the ball away and had a path for a fast break. But Smart hustled back and gobbled up the loose ball before firing it to Grant Williams for a 3-pointer, an important 5-point swing.
The Celtics surged ahead by as many as 24 in the fourth before the Pistons cut into the deficit in the final minutes after Udoka had emptied his bench. Although the lead was never really in danger, it wasn’t the best showing by backups hoping to show they deserve more opportunities.
But it never reached the point where Udoka needed to push his starters back into action. Tatum and Brown’s much-needed rest was not disturbed, and the win was secured.
“We’re coming out with the right mind-set at both ends of the floor,” Udoka said, “having good carryover, showing more consistency.”