Boston — If it’s not one thing, it’s two things.
And sometimes, it’s three things.
When things aren’t going right for the Pistons, it’s not pretty. They fall behind early and climbing out of a hole becomes more difficult in the second half.
It happened again Monday night against the Boston Celtics, as the three issues for the Pistons were not stopping an All-Star player, poor 3-point shooting, and missed free throws.
Those factors created the predictable deficit and the Pistons fell to the Celtics, 113-109, at TD Garden.
It’s the third straight loss for the Pistons (21-27), who dropped to 9-17 on the road and are tied for their low mark this season, at six games below .500.
Andre Drummond had 28 points and 22 rebounds — his fourth 20-20 game of the season — and Kentavious Caldwell Pope added eight of his 18 points in the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter, helping the Pistons erase a double-digit deficit.
But it wasn’t enough, as Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas scored 24 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter — including 22 of their final 25 points, in the last seven minutes.
Coach Stan Van Gundy took the blame for not coming up with a defensive scheme to try to stop Thomas — or at least make him get the ball out of his hands.
“I didn’t do a very good job (coaching) in the fourth quarter; I should have come up with something better than what we were doing,” Van Gundy said. “We should have had two guys on him; that one is on me.”
That the Pistons were even close down the stretch was a feat, as they went 3-of-27 on 3-pointers, compared to the Celtics (30-18), who were 13-of-32 from beyond the arc.
“We were 3-for-27. They took five more and made 10 more. That’s the entire difference in the game — and Isaiah getting 15 free throws,” Van Gundy added. “Those were the two differences in the game. We outrebounded them, far more points in the paint, more second-chance points and we only turned the ball over seven times.”
In the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, the Pistons erased an 11-point deficit, the largest margin of the game. They rallied with a 19-5 run, sparked by Ish Smith (12 points) and Marcus Morris (13 points).
Smith started with a jumper and Tobias Harris (15 points) followed with a lay-in. Drummond completed a three-point play after being fouled on a tip-in, cutting the lead to 85-81 at the 8:37 mark.
After a 3-pointer by Morris and a steal and dunk by Smith, the Pistons tied it at 88 with 7:01 left. Thomas connected on a pair of free throws, but Caldwell-Pope gave the Pistons their first lead since early in the second quarter, making three free throws, to make it 91-90. Drummond capped the run with a basket off an assist by Caldwell-Pope.
But the Pistons couldn’t finish things out down the stretch.
“We’re in this place right now … (TNT analyst) Kevin McHale brought it up before the game and he’s exactly right: we go to Miami and our offensive numbers are good and we shoot the ball pretty well, and we can’t guard anybody,” Van Gundy said. “We come out tonight and really worked hard defensively against a very good offensive team and we can’t make a shot.
“We just can’t get it together and play enough at both ends of the floor right now. It’s disappointing; I was proud of our guys tonight. They fought hard and we just couldn’t get the ball in the basket.”
Drummond was 12-of-19 from the field and was active on the defensive end, drawing praise from Van Gundy.
“He was really good tonight. I really liked his effort tonight and I liked his effort in Miami, too, for the most part,” he said. “If he continues to play like that, we’re going to have a chance to turn this around. I’m really happy with the way he played.”
Thomas took control, scoring 11 straight points and answered the Pistons’ run with a 3-pointer. Caldwell-Pope was fouled on another 3-pointer — making two shots — and Thomas struck again, converting a three-point play to restore the lead, 99-98 Jae Crowder (21 points) made two free throws, then split a pair on the next trip, pushing it to 102-98. Harris responded with a three-point play, cutting the lead to one at the 3:22 mark and on the ensuing possession, Thomas scored on a pull-up jumper.
Drummond made a pair of free throws to trim the deficit to 104-103 but Thomas again came through, with a 3-pointer. Jon Leuer made a pair of free throws, but Thomas answered with a pull-up jumper.
Harris scored on a lay-in with 1:09 left to make it 109-107, but the Pistons didn’t get any closer. Thomas pushed the lead to four with a pair of free throws with 18.1 seconds left, then put the game away with another two free throws with 7.5 seconds remaining, accounting for the Celtics’ final 11 points as well.
“We kept fighting all game. Obviously, there were no moral victories, but we know as a team we got to shoot better,” Harris said. “It was one of those nights for us that we just couldn’t get shots to fall. I thought we did a great job of holding our composure and continuing to keep battling.
“We’ve just got to stay strong and stay positive and hopefully sooner or later we are going to have a full-package game."