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Botched FTs derail Pistons in loss to Celtics

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Celtics' Amir Johnson dunks over Pistons' Andre Drummond in the first quarter. The Pistons lost 104-98, ending a two-game win streak.

Auburn Hills — Free throws aren’t free.

More often than not, missed free throws come back to bite a team, especially in close games.

The Pistons were bitten — over and over and over again by their misses, especially in the fourth quarter. And it wasn’t just Andre Drummond.

They nearly shot better from the field (43 percent) than they did from the free-throw line (46 percent).

That was their undoing in a 104-98 loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday night before a packed Palace, which celebrated during a halftime ceremony for the jersey retirement of Richard Hamilton.

BOX SCORE: Celtics 104, Pistons 98

“The thing is, obviously, Andre was 1-for-11, but we were 15-for-25 with the other guys,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “The other guys shot 62 percent; at key times in the game they were up there missing free throws.”

Even with their free-throw woes, the Pistons had a shot in the final minutes to win the game. They had a 96-94 lead after a 3-pointer by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (18 points) but the Celtics scored the next seven points — with a free throw by rookie Jaylen Brown (13 points), who added  a 3-pointer and was fouled.

The Celtics (38-21) got the offensive rebound off Brown’s missed free throw and Marcus Smart (14 points) hit the next two free throws, pushing the lead to 100-96 with 37.3 seconds left. Isaiah Thomas (33 points) added a free throw and the Pistons never got closer than three points the rest of the way.

Drummond finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds, Reggie Jackson 17 points and six assists and Marcus Morris 16 points and 10 rebounds.

“For three quarters, they played harder than us,” Morris said. “They wanted it more and down the stretch, they got on the glass and it was a dogfight.”

“We’ve got to be more aggressive. That’s a team fighting for a good seed in the playoffs. Every game we’ve played against them, it always comes down to one or two possessions and whichever team wanted it more, a couple possessions they wanted it more than us.”

For the second time since the All-Star break, the Pistons were living on the edge, digging into a big third-quarter deficit and having to dig themselves out.

In Thursday’s overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets, they overcame an 18-point deficit; this time, it was a 15-point margin early in the third quarter. The Pistons climbed all the way back, erasing the deficit — and took a lead in the final minutes — but couldn’t hold on.

Before Brown’s go-ahead 3-pointer, Jackson had a long 3-pointer, with about 11 seconds left on the shot clock, that missed, setting the stage for the final lead change.

“It probably won’t be the last time I take that shot; it’s sports — sometimes you make it; sometimes you don’t,” Jackson said. “It felt great coming out my hand, but unfortunately it didn’t go down. They battled back and found a way to get a win.”

The Pistons (28-31) had a 96-94 lead after Caldwell-Pope’s 3-pointer with 2:08 left, but Brown answered by splitting a pair of free throws, then hitting a 3-pointer after being fouled with 37.6 seconds left, giving the Celtics the lead, 98-96 with 36 seconds left.

The Pistons answered, with a pair of hooks by Drummond, a jumper by Jackson and another hook by Drummond. On two of the makes, Drummond was fouled, but missed both free throws. He finished 1-of-11 from the free-throw line, part of the Pistons’ nightmarish night from the stripe — as a team, they were 46 percent (16-of-35), which proved critical in the late stages of a close game.

The 11-0 Pistons run trimmed the lead to 67-63, with 3 of 4 free throws by Morris. They finished the third quarter with a three-point play by Morris, making it 79-74 entering the fourth.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard