Pistons scrap, still fall again to Celtics
Boston — This time, there wasn’t a first-half shooting drought that led to the Pistons’ demise against the Boston Celtics.
It came in the third quarter.
The Pistons shot 24 percent (4-of-17) and were outscored, 25-13, just after halftime, turning a 58-56 halftime lead into another deficit. They couldn’t dig out of this one, as the Celtics completed their home-and-home sweep of the Pistons, 108-105, on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
Blake Griffin had 24 points and 15 rebounds and Andre Drummond 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Pistons (4-2), who fell to the Celtics by 20 on Saturday in Detroit.
“We had our chances to end it, starting with the way we played in the fourth quarter,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I loved our fight. We put that type of intensity and fight every night and you put yourself in a position to win — and that’s what this league is about.
“You’re not going to come out and win all 82 (games). You compete and when you’re down 10, took their best punch, the top team in the Eastern Conference.
“The way we played in the third quarter caused all that. We were right where we wanted to be, but we had 11 turnovers in the second half.
After falling behind by as many as 14 points in the third quarter, the Pistons looked to be finished, but kept scrapping, getting the lead down to one in the final minute.
The Celtics (5-2) had a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter and turned a two-point halftime deficit into a 68-60 lead. Boston led, 81-71, after the 12-point margin in the third quarter.
The Pistons never packed it in, though, chipping away at the lead, with a 3-pointer by Ish Smith (13 points) and a drive by Griffin jump-starting a 10-2 run to make it a 90-89 deficit.
The Pistons never regained the lead, though, as the Celtics had another 6-0 run. The Pistons answered with a 3-pointer by Reggie Bullock (16 points) and a drive by Griffin but Irving and Jaylen Brown (14 points) responded with a jumper and 3-pointer, respectively.
The Griffin-Bullock combo hit again, with a lay-in and 3-pointer but Marcus Morris (15 points, nine rebounds) kept the Pistons at bay with two more free throws, for a 103-99 lead with 15.1 seconds remaining.
Smith’s 3-pointer with 11.2 seconds left made it a one-point game, and Jayson Tatum (16 points) made two free throws for a 105-102 lead. The Pistons had a chance to tie it, but Griffin’s had a turnover on the inbounds pass to Smith and Irving got possession and was fouled.
“When that happens, you think the guy will cut back-door and cut down the court and that’s miscommunication — those things happen,” Casey said. “It was the buildup to that; it wasn’t that one play.”
Kyrie Irving had 31 points and his two free throws pushed the lead to five but Bullock hit a 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left. Tatum split a pair of free throws and the Celtics’ lead was three with 0.4 seconds remaining and the Pistons didn’t get a final shot off.
Here are some other observations from Tuesday’s game:
1. Rookie Bruce Brown had his best game, with 10 points in 13 minutes — after he totaled just six points in his first three games. Brown is earning minutes because of his defense and he showed it with a nice block on Jaylen Brown in the first half that he could be productive on that end of the court. The scoring is becoming a bonus, as he’s finding ways to get to the basket and make easier shots. Brown was 0-of-2 on 3-pointers but went 4-for-5 inside the arc.
“He did a heck of a job,” Casey said. “He did a good job defensively and running the floor and his overall intensity was contagious and I thought overall, he came in and didn’t play like a rookie.”
2. After the Celtics did a good job of limiting Griffin’s looks in the first meeting and holding him to 2-of-13 shooting. He got back into a regular rhythm, going 8-of-17 from the field on Tuesday, using his size and strength to his advantage and getting the Celtics’ big men in foul trouble, which loosened them up to not contest as hard on drives to the basket. Griffin looked more like the first four games of the season, but when he sat, the Pistons continued to struggle to find scoring options. The Pistons had a stretch with Griffin and Drummond on the bench in the second quarter, when the Celtics pulled away early.
3. Reggie Bullock seemed to find his shooting touch, after early troubles from beyond the arc. Bullock, who shot 45 percent last season, started 4-of-20 this year but bounced back after an 0-of-4 start on Tuesday. Bullock made his last three 3-pointers in the last three minutes, helping trim the lead to 101-99 with 24.7 seconds left. He said earlier Tuesday that he was going to stay with his regular routine and not change anything, looking to get out of the slump like most shooters do.
4. Irving’s 31 points were a season-high and he added five rebounds and five assists. Irving had 11 straight points — with three straight 3-pointers, during the stretch in the third quarter when the Celtics built their largest lead, 81-67, with 2:22 left in the period. Irving struggled in the first meeting but found his groove Tuesday.
“He was great,” Griffin said of Irving. “That’s what Kyrie does: he affects the game in so many different ways. He did a really good job.”
5. The Pistons defended better, as the Celtics shot 44 percent for the game — after allowing 51 percent on Saturday — but the Pistons tightened up in the final minutes, including a couple of blocks by Drummond and Griffin on drives to the basket.
They were regarded for their defense and were rated in the top 10 last season, but brought the intensity they needed in some key possessions.