Eventually, the Celtics knew their luck and good fortune would run out, and it did Saturday night in a 113-104 loss in Detroit. The Celtics kept putting themselves in position to win, but couldn’t make the same shots that had been going down the previous eight games.
That season-altering eight-game winning streak is over, and the Celtics walked away from their loss to the Pistons proud they were finally able to gain more offensive consistency and cohesion, while the defense maintained its prowess.
The Celtics don’t play until Wednesday, but beginning with that game against the Phoenix Suns, they play every other day for 17 days, a string of nine games. And after the Suns, the stretch gets increasingly difficult — Milwaukee, Charlotte, Philadelphia, at Houston, at Memphis, at San Antonio, Minnesota, and Dallas.
So there is a collective feeling the Celtics have discovered a blueprint for success, knowing that only 31 percent shooting in the second half at Detroit was the reason they weren’t able to extend their streak to nine.
“It’s not going to look pretty every single night, in terms of scoring the basketball the way we’ve been scoring the last few games,” Kyrie Irving said. “We understand that. In order to be special in this league, we’ve got to get stops.”
The Celtics averaged 125.4 points per game during their winning streak and allowed just 102.6 on 43 percent shooting. It was a complete run for the Celtics, but coach Brad Stevens said he saw slippage defensively during the past few games, including the Dec. 12 win over the Washington Wizards, where John Wall drove to the basket without much resistance in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Of course, the Celtics ran off those eight wins mostly without one of their best defensive players, Al Horford, who missed five of those wins with patella tendon soreness. Stevens said Horford will be examined Monday to determine his status for Phoenix and beyond.
So it’s an encouraging sign the Celtics were able to play some of their best defense without Horford. But this upcoming stretch is critical, considering how quickly the games and competition will come. But what the winning streak did is give the Celtics momentum and motivation for the final two-thirds of the season.
“I feel like we’re solid [defensively],” Irving said. “Our communication is there. In terms of certain easy points that we give, when we’ve been playing certain teams, what Coach Stevens means is when we score that many points  and the dropoff when we just allow teams to just get easy points. The game, instead of it being an 18-point game [the Celtics lead], it’s a 12-point game or 10-point game, it seems a lot closer, even though we’ve managed the game for a majority of the game pretty well.
“I totally understand what Coach Stevens is saying [about slippage]. As a coach that’s his job to keep us at a certain type of level. A few days of rest will do us well and I’m pretty sure our defense will be right where it needs to be. It’s kind of ironic to think we were on that streak and we were like second in defense. So we were scoring a lot of points and we’re not giving up as many, but there’s still a certain type of effort that we expect, so it’s our job to play at that level.”
In all, the Celtics feel lot better about themselves than they did after beginning the season 10-10 and questioning whether they had enough chemistry to compete in the Eastern Conference. Players such as Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier still haven’t gotten untracked and Horford, as mentioned, is still injured.
The Celtics will have two practice days to sharpen up for the games facing them, but this eight-game winning streak changed the perception of their team and turned them back into legitimate contenders. Despite the increase in competition, the next quest is to win and maintain that offensive proficiency that was so fleeting during the first 20 games.
The formula has been discovered, and now it’s time to preserve that advantage.