The cruelty of this game was punctuated on the final play of the third quarter, when Gordon Hayward missed an open 3-pointer that could have sliced Detroit’s lead to 3 points. Andre Drummond gathered the rebound and tossed the ball to teammate Svi Mykhailiuk for the customary heave before the buzzer.
This heave, however, found its mark when the 61-foot shot banked into the basket. Mykhailiuk smiled as he walked back to the bench. It summarized the Pistons brilliant and sometimes fortunate offensive performance in the Celtics’ stunning loss, 116-103, on Wednesday night at TD Garden.
It was not only a rare masterful night for the bumbling Pistons, who had just lost consecutive games to the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago Bulls at home, but it exposed the Celtics’ recent troublesome stretch resulting in their most embarrassing loss of the season.
The 15-27 Pistons shot a season-best 60.3 percent, including a demoralizing 76 percent of their 2-point shots in their runaway win.
It was Boston’s third loss this calendar year to a team with a sub.-500 record in what was supposed to be their easiest stretch of the season. Now they have to scrape up what’s left of their pride and head to Milwaukee to play the NBA-best Bucks on Thursday.
The Celtics walked away from this game frustrated and shocked. Marcus Smart was ejected with 2:23 left in the game for picking up his second technical foul. He was trying to get past a Drummond screen to defend Derrick Rose, collided with Rose and was called for the foul. Smart argued that he was picked illegally and then ripped his jersey off as he walked through the tunnel. He declined to answer any questions.
Kemba Walker, who missed several second-half shots that could have changed the momentum, was visibly down after the game. He was 0-for-6 from the 3-point line in the second half as the Celtics were outscored by the injury riddled Pistons, 59-44.
“I’m more concerned about my individual play than anything right now,” he said. “I have to be better for my teammates.”
Derrick Rose, the former MVP whose career was derailed by injuries, scored at will, hitting all 11 of his 2-point attempts for 22 points. Detroit rallied from a 71-67 deficit with a deflating 15-2 run while the Celtics spent the fourth quarter urgently trying to rally, only to bumble and stumble about in slapstick fashion.
It was some of their ugliest basketball of the season.
“I give credit to Detroit, they played really well,” said Jaylen Brown, who scored 24 points but missed all five free throw attempts. “They got really comfortable. They made a lot of tough shots. Derrick Rose played really good, his pace was amazing tonight and we feel short. I think we’re going to be motivated to play tomorrow. We didn’t come with the right energy and teams are looking to beat us and we’ve been saying that all year.”
It was one of the Celtics’ worst defensive efforts of the year. Detroit led by as many as 21 most of the first half before the Celtics mounted a late rally to take a 59-57 lead. Brown and Gordon Hayward scored consecutive buckets for a 71-67 lead with 7:11 left in the third.
But rookie Sekou Doumbouya, a 19-year-old first-round pick, responded with a 3-pointer and the Pistons took control of the game with timely shooting and staggered the Celtics with that quarter-ending three by Mykhailiuk.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was at a loss to explain how a Pistons team that had lost 12 of its past 15 games, including a 114-93 loss to the Celtics at the Garden last month, played so flawlessly on offense.The trio of Rose, Doumbouya and Drummond were 27-for-33 shooting, including 25 for 25 on 2-pointers.
“The baskets you can never give away are the cuts, layups and the transitions,” Stevens said. “Right there, you’re probably getting beat in most NBA games, if you give up that easy of plays.
“And they have to make the tough plays and Derrick Rose was tremendous; I thought he was the best player on the court. I hand it to them. The transition ones, the cuts, the backcuts, those are the ones you just can’t give up.”
Said Pistons coach Dwane Casey: “I didn’t think we would come in and shoot 60 percent against a great defensive team like Boston. I thought that was the thing, but I thought we would come in and compete. I thought we competed in the other games. We always had that one quarter, one stretch, that would kick us in the behind. Tonight, we pulled it all together for a longer period of time.”
The Celtics scored well enough to win, but the defense could never get consistent stops and the Pistons seemingly capitalized on every Boston defensive error.
Brown said it may have been a case of looking past an inferior opponent to the showdown ahead with Milwaukee or expecting to win in January just because they won most of the time in the first two months.
Boston is 4-4 this month with three losses coming to teams with losing records.
“We didn’t come out with the type of aggression before the game that we needed and we lost,” Brown said. “And that was all around. Everybody’s got to be better. We got comfortable winning early and we think that’s supposed to happen and we got away from some of the things we did to get those wins.
“So we got to get back to being the seeker and not the seeked.”