Game Preview: Celtics at Pistons

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – It has been rollercoaster season for the Boston Celtics (15-14), and they’re currently in the midst of one of the valleys of that ride. Boston has lost four of its last five games but will look to return to the upswing when it visits the Pistons (10-22) at 6 p.m. Sunday evening in Detroit.

One of Boston’s losses during its current lull came at the hands of the Pistons, who on Wednesday marched into TD Garden and snuck away with a 98-88 victory. The Celtics led by two points at halftime of that game, but Doc Rivers admitted after the contest that he did not have a good feeling about what was to come after watching the first two quarters.

“At halftime, as a coach, I was not very comfortable with where the game was gonna go, honestly. I told our staff that,” said Rivers. “I said, ‘We’re going to have to dig this out, because this game, we should be up 12 (or) 14, and it’s a two-point game.’ And I said, ‘Now we’re going to have to earn this.’ “

To many people’s surprise, but maybe not Rivers’, Detroit was the team that wound up earning the win. Sparked by huge second-half performances by Greg Monroe (22 points, 16 in the second half) and Ben Gordon (22 points, 14 in the second half), the Pistons were too much to handle.

The duo of Monroe and Gordon clicked in the fourth quarter as the Pistons figured out Boston’s 2-3 zone defense. Detroit played so well, in fact, that they were a blown layup in the final minute away from becoming the first Boston opponent since Dec. 27, the Celtics’ second game of the season, to score at least 100 points.

Boston’s defense was solid in the first half of Wednesday’s game, limiting the Pistons to just 47 points on 43.2 percent shooting, but when Gordon caught fire from the perimeter, it opened things up for Monroe in the middle as well. Those two players helped Detroit put together a key 8-0 run to pull away in the fourth quarter thanks to some poor decisions by Boston’s reserves.

“The stretch where they stretched the lead out, we had our bench in (and) we made some bone-head plays,” said Rivers. “We leave Ben Gordon to trap Damien Wilkins; we rotate to Ben Wallace out to the 3-point line; we give up an offensive rebound on a free throw. Those three possessions to me changed the game. It went from a two-point game to an eight-point game.”

The Pistons went on to win by 10, and they haven’t looked back since. Detroit returned home and defeated the Sacramento Kings Friday night by a score of 114-108. It had now won six of its past eight games overall heading into Sunday’s contest. The Celtics, meanwhile, haven’t tasted the feeling of a win in a full week. Their last victory came against the Chicago Bulls a full week ago, on Feb. 12.

Boston certainly doesn’t want to hear Detroit’s crowd going crazy thanks to another big win for the suddenly-hot Pistons. The C’s will attempt to end their poor stretch of play on Sunday, and if they do they’ll ensure that the only thing Pistons fans will be cheering about is the scheduled halftime performance by rapper Flo Rida.

Smart Offense

Rajon Rondo had the best scoring game of his career Wednesday night against the Pistons when he dropped 35 points. That was great for Rondo’s personal stats, but as Rivers indicated after the contest, it wasn’t exactly a good thing for the Celtics as a team.

“I want Rondo to stay aggressive (but) more in transition,” Rivers said after the loss to Detroit. “Half court, that’s when you get the ball to the other guys.”

Getting the ball to players like Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in the half court is smart offense. On Wednesday, Rondo had an offensive advantage against Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey. Although that advantage will exist again on Sunday, he must make a conscious decision to get his teammates involved in the offense.

Overall Bench Production

Ever since Brandon Bass went down with a knee injury and became unavailable, Boston’s bench has been a one-man show each and every night. It’s either Mickael Pietrus, JaJuan Johnson, Chris Wilcox or someone else putting up solid numbrs. It’s great to have those guys stepping up and giving strong performances, but the Celtics need them all to play well, not just one.

Johnson was the man who came off of the bench on Wednesday and recorded 10 points and five rebounds against Detroit. Chris Wilcox, who will likely come off of the bench on Sunday, put up 17 points and nine rebounds as a spot starter. If those two guys can have similar performances in this game while coming off of the bench, and maybe have some help from Pietrus and others, it will dramatically increase Boston’s chances at grabbing a win.

Mix Up the Offense

When Pierce and Allen combine for 16 shots in a game and almost none of them are good looks, you know there’s something wrong with Boston’s offense. That’s exactly what happened Wednesday night against Detroit.

Rivers and Pierce won’t complain about Pierce’s shot total in that game, but the quality of those looks was the problem. The Celtics continued to run pick-and-rolls with Pierce throughout the game, but Detroit hedged those screens aggressively with the goal of taking the ball out of Pierce’s hands or forcing him into tough shots. That plan worked to perfection.

Pierce and Allen are at their best when the ball is hopping and they get some airspace for looks at the basket. The only way they will get those looks is if the Celtics mix up the offense to get the ball into their hands in different spots of the floor. It wouldn’t hurt if all of Boston’s bigs set great screens in throughout this game, either.