Bad Loss, Right Direction
It almost seemed inevitable that Boston was going to go into the All-Star break on a 10-game winning streak. Only one other team in the NBA this season has put together a winning streak of 10 contests or longer. After the scorching hot Celtics walked into the Wells Fargo Center and took it to the MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid on Tuesday, nothing seemed to get in the way of Boston's ascension. Life could not have been better in Beantown. Wednesday had trap game written all over it and the lowly Detroit Pistons used their physicality and an uncharacteristic shooting night to down the red-hot Celtics on their home floor.
The Pistons shot its second-best three-point percentage of any game all season at 53.3%. On the year, Detroit shoots 31.9% from beyond the arc, which is good for second to last in the league, ahead of only the Thunder. While this is a damaging loss to the Celtics' continued run up the Eastern Conference standings, this team looked completely dead in the water in December after that west coast trip, but look at Boston now! They are playing some of their best basketball of the season. Daniel Theis was back in the green and white which was one of the most moving moments of this Boston season. Even though Tatum missed a closing seconds shot to beat the Pistons, this only seems like a small bump in the road for a team that has had nothing but positives for the last two weeks.
Following the contest in Philadelphia, head coach Ime Udoka stated, "I think honestly, for myself and the group, I’ve always said that it’s gonna build character with our group to play in these environments...So I did say that as a player, but as a coach, it’s no different. And to see the crowd leave in probably the third quarter is an impressive thing for us and I think our team relished that. And so, what I was impressed with was, after a big lead in the first half, coming out and holding them to 16 in the third quarter. So there was no let-up as far as that. And like I said, I said from the start of the year, to have that road warrior mentality, it will help us as a group overall."
The loss by the 76ers is tied for their sixth-worst defeat in Philly's franchise's history, and worst since 2015-2016 when they lost by 51 to the San Antonio Spurs. After the game, Jaylen Brown said this was the best defensive team he has ever been a part of. It was just the tenth time this season that Embiid failed to score 20 points in a game, and the second time that Celtics have held him under 20 this year. On Tuesday night against the 76ers, Boston broke its franchise record for most threes in a game with 25. The game broke the previous record from November of 2018 in a win over the Bucks. While he has been on some great defensive teams throughout his time when Brad Stevens was the head coach, he may be right. Everything looks connected, and there doesn't look like a moment on the floor where anyone is out of place. Getting into the paint against the Celtics is one of the hardest tasks as their length, and size on the perimeter is unmatched by any other team in the NBA.
Boston was on cloud nine after trouncing the 76ers by 48 on their home floor on Tuesday, and on the second night of a back-to-back against one of the worst teams in the NBA, what could go wrong. Detroit is second to last in the Eastern Conference and was on an eight-game losing streak heading into the TD Garden on Wednesday night. Dwayne Casey got his team up to play after they got beat handily by Boston at the Little Caesars Arena back on February 4, 2022. Kelly Olynyk got hot at one point, and young stud Saddiq Bey drilled five threes which are tied for his third-most in a game this season. Isaiah Stewart played well inside, using his strength and vertical spacing to make life difficult for a team that was without its number one choice center.
If this game tells anybody anything, it should say that the Celtics are at their best when they are healthy and have very little room for error when it comes to injuries. Almost every team in the NBA will without a doubt be better if the injuries were limited, but in Boston's case, its roster just doesn't allow it to have many injury hiccups. Robert Williams III is one of the best interior defenders in the league right now, and without him, Al Horford has to play big-time minutes at the center position. While Horford is solid in his own right, he is nowhere near the athleticism and versatility that Williams III gives a team in the painted area. Smart and White were creating a great one-two punch at point guard, and with Smart getting injured in Philadelphia, the rotation is hampered once again. Boston's defense is much more dangerous with Smart on the ball and the team has missed him in many instances guarding Cunningham or Grant at the Garden.
The Pistons surreally corralled 18 offensive rebounds in their win on Wednesday night. Boston's inability to find a body on the defensive glass hurt it in many points of the contest but particularly down the stretch. The Celtics struggled to defend in the second half and allowed a bad team to hang around. Going into the All-Star break, this loss leaves a bad taste in their mouths, as they almost went into the hiatus on a 10-game winning streak. Boston should remember this game heading into their vacations, and with only 22 games left to play, losing to the Pistons at home just is not going to cut it for a team that wants to continue its ride up the standings. Ingraining this loss into the heads of the Celtics should drive home the message that Boston still has the ability to do something special this season. Every night in the NBA is going to matter from now on with the standings being as close as they are in the Eastern Conference.
Learn from this contest, and remember how you played basketball during the nine-game winning streak. Don't take any team for granted, play with the same intensity and energy on both sides of the ball because that is what it is going to take to challenge the upper echelon for higher seeds come playoff time. Wednesday night had all the statistics that point to a runaway victory for the Celtics, but in reality that just did not happen. It is only their second time this season where they have shot over 40% from beyond the arc and lost. When Boston shoots over 49% from the field, it has only lost two total contests, and Wednesday night at TD Garden was one of them. The Celtics' lack of focus at some points in the game cost them the win just hours before the squad left for vacation or for Cleveland.
Boston fell into the trap against Detroit and learned multiple lessons along the way. The Celtics return to the hardwood will be on Thursday, February 24, 2022, at the Barclays Center to take on the Nets at 7:30 pm. With over half the season gone, and even with the loss before the hiatus, Boston is still moving in the right direction. There is much still to be improved on, but if this team can get healthy and stay that way, I don't know any team in the league who would want to see the Celtics in a seven-game series.