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Pistons center addresses team's sluggish start in 110-98 loss to the Celtics. Rod Beard

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Detroit — The Pistons came back from the All-Star break in much the same way they went into it nine days ago: with plenty of question marks and fewer answers.

The vexing continued in the first game after the break, as the Pistons had a good start in the first quarter, but sputtered in the second quarter, giving up a 38-21 margin — and the lead — before halftime. That was more than enough cushion for the Boston Celtics to pull ahead — and stay ahead.

The Celtics took the lead after the second and never gave it back, taking a 110-98 victory over the Pistons on Friday night before a sellout crowd at Little Caesars Arena. The loss is the fourth in the last five games for the Pistons, who play five of their next six games on the road, beginning Sunday at Charlotte.

BOX SCORE: Celtics 110, Pistons 98

Ish Smith had 20 points and six assists, Blake Griffin added 17 points and Drummond 15 points and 17 rebounds for the Pistons (28-30), who stayed 1½ games behind the Miami Heat, who also lost on Friday.

“In the second, third and fourth (quarters) we had no energy and no drive,” Griffin said. “We were trying but it looked like everybody was in slow motion.”

The Celtics (41-19) looked to be moving at different speed, as their reserves outscored, outpaced and outhustled the Pistons’. Boston’s bench accounted for a 65-21 scoring margin, including a big boost in the second quarter for the go-ahead push.

“Our bench was not good, in the second quarter was really where the game was decided,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Everything else was competitive and obviously, our threes and their threes.”

The Celtics finished at 44 percent (17-of-39) on 3-pointers for the game and 48 percent overall from the field. Though the Pistons focused on defending the paint, Boston was able to get good shots both inside and outside.

“They knocked some in; they shot six more than us and made seven more than us,” Van Gundy said. “We had some really good looks at threes and didn’t knock anything in.”

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The Pistons were within 86-77 to start the fourth quarter, but former Piston Marcus Morris (15 points and six rebounds) opened with a 3-pointer and Marcus Smart (12 points and six assists) added a layin and a drive.

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Stanley Johnson (12 points) ended the drought with a layin, but Terry Rozier (11 points) and Morris hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push the lead to 20, finishing a 13-2 spurt. Smith answered with a layin and Griffin a 3-pointer to trim the lead to 99-86 with 4:11 left, but the Pistons didn’t get within single digits the rest of the way.

Daniel Theis boosted the Celtics’ bench effort with a career-best 19 points and added seven rebounds and Kyrie Irving posted 18 points, five rebounds and six assists.

The Pistons led, 28-23, after the first, but Boston rallied in the second, starting with a putback by Theis in the first minute. They had a quick 6-0 run, with a pair of baskets from Morris and a layin from Theis to take their first lead, 34-32, at the 7:46 mark.

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Pistons coach on the team's 110-98 loss at Little Caesars Arena, which dropped Detroit's record to 28-30. Rod Beard

Griffin tied it with a fadeaway jumper, but Al Horford helped regain the lead with a 3-pointer. Jameer Nelson’s jumper and a 3-pointer from Anthony Tolliver made it a 39-37 lead, but the Celtics pulled away with a 21-5 spurt, with five more points from Theis and a three-point play by rookie Jayson Tatum (15 points).

“We came out with no energy and they played harder and wanted it more,” Drummond said. “The scoreboard showed that.”

By the time the flurry was done, the Celtics were ahead, 58-44, with 42.3 seconds left. Theis hit another 3 with 5.1 seconds remaining and Smith answered with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, for a 61-49 Celtics lead.

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“You never want to play a game like that but you have 24 games left to make a run,” Griffin said. “We can’t hang our heads forever and keep worrying about this game.”

Here are some other observations from the Pistons’ loss:

■ The Celtics’ bench was dominant, with four double-figure scorers, including Theis (19 points, Morris (15), Smart (12) and Rozier (11). Three of their starters, Horford, Aron Baynes and Jaylen Brown, combined for just 12 points but the reserves picked up the slack.

■ The Pistons’ starters all scored in double figures, but they couldn’t get a push in production from the reserves. Tolliver had nine points and eight rebounds, but there wasn’t much energy coming from the second unit, as shown in the poor second quarter defensively and only two points from rookie Luke Kennard.

■ Nelson was 2-of-3 from the field for four points and added three assists, but he was a minus-14 rating, as the bench was trounced against the Celtics’ reserves. He played 13 minutes and found it difficult to match up against Boston’s younger, faster guards.

■  Baynes left the game because of a hand injury and didn’t return. He played just 2:39 in the first quarter and finished with one point, splitting a pair of free throws.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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