Celtics point guard Kemba Walker knows he has to be better.
“I’m more upset about my individual play than anything right now,” Walker said Wednesday night after his team’s uninspiring 116-103 loss to the Detroit Pistons. “It starts with me. I have to be better for my teammates.”
Walker shot just 36.8 percent from the field against Detroit, knocking down 7 of 19 field-goal attempts. Nine of his misses came from behind the arc, as he connected on only 2 of 11 three-point attempts. The Celtics couldn’t seem to establish an offensive rhythm, all while the 15-27 Pistons burned them in the paint and shot an impeccable 76 percent from two-point range.
The latest defeat dropped the Celtics to 5-5 over their last 10 games. During that stretch, Walker missed three games when he was sidelined with the flu and his return hasn’t pulled Boston out of its midseason funk. Asked what kind of pressure he puts on himself to lift the team amid the struggles and demanding January schedule, Walker shied away from the word, “pressure,” but acknowledged his influence.
“I wouldn’t use the word, ‘pressure,’” he said. “Just as one of the leaders of the team, I just have to be more energized from the beginning of the game and have my guys ready to go.”
Wednesday’s slow start plagued the Celtics, who opened the game shooting 1 for 6 from the field and trailed for the entire first quarter. Jaylen Brown put the onus on everyone to “be better.”
“We didn’t come with the right energy,” said Brown. “Teams are looking to beat us, man. We’ve been saying it all year. We didn’t come out with the type of aggressiveness we needed and we lost. That was all-around.”
Forward Gordon Hayward still provided a spark, scoring 10 of Boston’s 24 points in the opening frame. He looked sharp throughout the first three quarters and finished with 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting. Highlights included an offensive rebound followed by a 10-foot jumper at the buzzer heading into halftime as well as a cutting dunk over Derrick Rose in the third quarter.
When Detroit’s lead swelled to 9 points after a 15-2 run later in the third, Hayward knocked down a much-needed 3-pointer. He hit another moments later to cut the deficit to 4.
Brown also turned in a solid offensive performance, one that snapped a five-game stretch in which he was shooting 30.3 percent from the field. He tallied 24 points, featuring a two-minute stretch in the first half when he scored 9 straight.
“Offensively, those guys both made enough shots,” said coach Brad Stevens. “What were they? 21 of 31 from the field is pretty damn good. That’s not where we lost the game. We lost the game on our transition defense.”
Boston’s lackluster defense didn’t make things any easier for the offense. Despite the starters staying on the court, the Celtics couldn’t get anything going in the fourth quarter. Walker, Hayward, and Brown combined for just three field goals. Stevens waved the white flag with the team down by 14 and 2:23 remaining.
The road won’t get any easier for the Celtics, who face the 36-6 Milwaukee Bucks Thursday and play every other night until the All-Star Break. Walker and Brown are hopeful the team can bounce back.
“You got to want it more, especially after a loss like this,” Walker said. “We got to do what we can to try and get a win against the best team in the league.”
“I think we’re going to be motivated to play,” added Brown. “We got to get back to being the seeker and not the seeked.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@nicoleyang.