Auburn Hills — For the Pistons to become a good team, beating teams like the rebuilding Boston Celtics at home should become so commonplace the game should be played on autopilot.
Unfortunately, that’s what it looked like for portions of Sunday’s game—not quite a letdown after losing in overtime to Memphis but certainly not an outfit suitable for framing as they beat the Celtics 87-77 at the Palace—in Brandon Jennings’ debut as a Piston.
Aside from a couple spectacular plays, he didn’t have to do much other than take care of the ball to be extremely effective because the Pistons again treated it as if it were diseased, particularly in the third quarter, when the Celtics cut a 15-point lead to seven after nine turnovers.
It was so bad that Jennings’ half-court heave to end the period—an attempt that bounced off the rim—was one of their best possessions of the period because they didn’t give it away.
“We need to be more engaged for 48 minutes,” Jennings said. “We have lapses where we relax and let teams back in. Like Chauncey (Billups) said, it’s important we be engaged. Those first five minutes in the third quarter are real important.”
It hit critical mass in the fourth, when the Celtics actually took a 65-63 lead before Jennings showed the hometown crowd what he’ll do best.
First, he broke the Celtics’ defense off the dribble on a pick-and-roll for a layup, then on a semi-break, found a streaking Kyle Singler in traffic for a layup and subsequent three-point play to restore order.
Finally, he noticed his defender backing off a screen, not wanting to give up the drive so he nailed a 3-pointer to put the Pistons up 8, capping off a 10-0 run—and did all of this without the mask he wore in the first half used to protect his fractured jaw.
“I’m a hooper,” Jennings proclaimed after the morning shootaround, and later he showed why he called himself that, after losing his balance, found Andre Drummond for a layup, bouncing a pass while on the floor.
As pretty as that pass was—one that had Jennings in full-strut mode immediately after—it was a struggle for the Pistons to sustain concentration and execute when they had the Celtics ready to submit.
They dominated early thanks to easy mismatches on the interior, as Andre Drummond had the first three field-goals with dunks , as they scored 54 points in the paint, leading many to believe it would be an easy evening.
Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith each scored 15, while combining for 29 rebounds.
Smith and Monroe had 10 turnovers between them, and the Pistons’ 21 turnovers would’ve been much worse had the Celtics not turned it up 24 times.
“It’s the NBA, and there’s teams that struggle but always good players on every team,” Billups said. “When you can put a team away you gotta try your best to do that because it won’t happen all the time.”
But when Avery Bradley hit a jumper to cut the lead to 79-77 with 2:12 remaining, as the ghosts from Friday night’s giveaway in Memphis had to be fresh in their minds.
“I told the guys in the huddle, like ‘we know how we felt coming home from Memphis’,” Billups said. “Let’s not play with that tonight.”
Luckily for them, the Celtics didn’t have the personnel to execute in their final possessions from that point on. After Singler blocked a Gerald Wallace three-point attempt, it was followed by Josh Smith taking advantage of an open lane to convert a layup with 37 seconds left to effectively end the Celtics’ threat.
Jennings played 31 minutes off the bench, with 14 points, four assists, four rebounds and yes, two turnovers. Rodney Stuckey made just one of his five shots, but scored 10 due to making eight of nine free throws.
Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk scored 15 with eight rebounds off the bench, while Jordan Crawford (Detroit native) scored 13 as off the bench, as the Celtics struggled to gain any offensive traction, shooting just 42 percent from the field.
The Pistons shot 45 percent from the field but made only two of their 13 3-point attempts, but the one Jennings’ made was crucial to stop the bleeding down the stretch, another clear lesson learned—without the “L” to add to their ledger.