Watch It! - Pistons at Celtics

Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.

Boston Has Changed

The Celtics were a very different team when these teams met on Nov. 3. Boston lost that game by a score of 87-77 and just one starter scored in double-figures.

Jordan Crawford drives to the basket against Minnesota

Tonight's starting lineup for the Celtics, which includes Jordan Crawford, looks much different than the one that took the floor on Nov. 3 in Detroit.
Jared Wickerham/NBAE/Getty Images

That night’s starting lineup looks nothing like the one that will take the court tonight. Two major additions, Jordan Crawford and Jared Sullinger, have replaced Vitor Faverani and Gerald Wallace since that early-November night.

Boston is 8-4 on the season with its current starting lineup of Crawford, Sullinger, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. One of those victories came Monday night against Minnesota, which crushed the Celtics in mid-November. Monday’s victory was just another example of how far Boston has come over the past two months.

Dominant Defense

Another reason for Boston’s recent success is its defense. The C’s are playing at a very high level at that end of the court, as the Timberwolves and Knicks just found out.

Boston limited those two opponents to an average of just 38.8 percent shooting overall. The defense was even better on the perimeter, as Minnesota and New York combined to shoot just 13-of-50 (26.0 percent) from downtown.

Will the Pistons be able to handle Boston's impressive defense? It’s a legitimate question to ask. Detroit is only an average shooting team, as its 45.1 percent mark on the season ranks 13th in the league. To make things worse, the Pistons are 29th in the league in 3-point shooting with their 31.2 percent mark from long range.

Protecting the Paint

Detroit doesn’t need to worry about protecting the paint, because it has built-in rim protectors in its starting lineup. Andre Drummond and Josh Smith are two of the longest, most athletic big men in the league. They both rank in the top 30 in the NBA in blocks per game.

Boston, on the other hand, is a different story. The Celtics don’t have a true shot blocker or a true center. Despite having a strong overall defense, they rank 19th in the league by giving up an average of 41.9 points per game in the paint.

That should worry the C’s tonight. The Pistons are relentless around the basket with their impressive frontline of Smith, Drummond and Greg Monroe. In these teams’ first meeting, Detroit scored 54 of its 87 points in the paint. Boston can’t let that happen again.

Smith’s Firing on all Pistons

Smith joined the Pistons this summer after spending his first nine years in Atlanta. He stands as Detroit’s biggest offseason signing in recent memory, and he’s beginning to show why that is the case.

The lengthy small forward has put up consecutive 30-point games against two of the league’s top teams. Smith dropped 31 points on the Trail Blazers Sunday night, then scored 30 against the Pacers on Monday. He shot an impressive 56.5 percent from the field in those games and did almost all of his work inside the 3-point line, which is a great sign for Detroit.

Stevens said on Tuesday that Smith is “playing like an All-Star,” and Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks believes that’s the case because Detroit is giving Smith the ball on the block as often as possible. He will certainly be a great challenge for Boston tonight.

Sully’s Effectiveness

Sullinger has been one of the driving forces of Boston’s recent success. He’s averaging 15.6 PPG and 6.3 RPG in seven December games, including three games in which he scored at least 19 points.

It’s not going to be easy for Sullinger to continue that impressive stretch tonight. He’ll be facing off with Drummond, who is freakishly long and athletic. Drummond stands in at 6-foot-10 and measured out with a wingspan of greater than 7-foot-6 at the 2012 NBA Draft Combine. He also rates out as an excellent post defender, according to Synergy Sports.

Sullinger has figured out a way to score against bigger players, but Drummond may be a different story. The two players shared 11 minutes of playing time on Nov. 3, in which Sullinger scored just two points and shot 0-of-5 from the field.