Late Tatum jumper undoes Pistons' offensive showpiece, Celtics split weekend series
Detroit — It’s not how they start; it’s how they finish.
The Pistons’ poor start this season hasn’t been due to struggles in the first half; rather, it’s been about giving up big runs in the third and fourth quarters.
Sunday’s matchup against the Boston Celtics was another example. The Pistons had one of their best quarters of the season — with 33 points in the first period — but they had to weather the storm in the final seconds.
Defensively, they didn’t have enough.
After beating the Celtics on Friday night, the Pistons had to settle for a weekend split with a 122-120 loss Sunday afternoon at Little Caesars Arena.
Jayson Tatum hit the go-ahead jumper with 2.9 seconds left, lifting the Celtics (4-3). Tatum finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and a career-high 12 assists.
On a defensive assignment that might have been reserved for Josh Jackson, the Pistons didn’t have an answer, after Jackson left in the third quarter because of an ankle injury. He didn’t return and the Celtics’ wings feasted, with Jaylen Brown adding 31 points.
The Pistons fixed a couple of their main issues, with only 10 turnovers and shooting 48 percent from the field, but they couldn’t get the stops defensively when they needed them, including on Tatum’s go-ahead jumper.
“Defense is what we were going for on that last possession, trying to get our best defenders in there in that situation,” coach Dwane Casey said. “That’s why we had that group in there at the end, then bringing Svi (Mykhailiuk) and Derrick (Rose) back in there for offense.”
Jerami Grant had 22 points and six rebounds, Mykhailiuk 15 points and Mason Plumlee 13 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons (1-5), who have a quick turnaround with a Monday matchup in Milwaukee against the Bucks.
The Celtics had a 106-100 lead at the 7:50 mark of the fourth quarter after Semi Ojeleye (11 points) hit his third 3-pointer of the quarter. The Pistons responded an 8-0 run, with two free throws from Plumlee, a 3-pointer from Sekou Doumbouya and another 3-pointer from Mykhailiuk to regain the lead.
After Marcus Smart (17 points and nine assists) tied it with a jumper, Mykhailiuk hit his third 3-pointer of the quarter and following a three-point play by Tristan Thompson (12 points and 11 rebounds), Mykhailiuk made two free throws.
The Celtics took control with a 6-0 spurt, with two free throws and a basket from Smart and a lay-in by Daniel Theis (15 points). After Theis missed the free throw for a potential three-point play, the ball went off Grant, giving the Celtics another chance, and Smart converted a banked jumper for a four-point trip down the court.
It was a good offensive output for the Pistons, who are struggling to get themselves in a good rhythm.
“They’re a good defensive team and they have a lot of length. We made our shots and Svi came in and gave us a boost offensively. We had some drives in there where we had an opportunity to get a better shot,” Casey said. “Our defense down the stretch, with a couple possessions and rebounding situations, we had opportunities to go get the ball and we knock it off ourselves.
“All those little things are things we can clean up and get better at, but I was happy with our offensive output and I see some areas where we can get better defensively.”
The Pistons had another run, with a lay-in by Grant, a free throw by Blake Griffin (13 points) and two free throws by Plumlee to move ahead, 118-117, with 42.2 seconds left, but Jaylen Brown (31 points) answered with a 3-pointer.
Grant tied it at 120 with two free throws with 22 seconds left, before Tatum’s final shot.
“We got exactly what we wanted — we got Jayson going downhill against Blake. He’s not the same Blake as he used to be (with his quickness) and we just took advantage of that,” Smart said. “We did exactly what we were supposed to do and got the shot we wanted.”