The Pistons are pumping in Detroit.
With Sunday's 112-107 overtime victory against Toronto -- their ninth win in 11 games and fifth straight at home -- Detroit has reached .500 for the first time since Dec. 26 and claimed the Eastern Conference's No. 6 seed in one fell swoop. (Here's where we acknowledge Kawhi Leonard was rested, dropping the Raptors to 13-5 without their star forward.)
Blake Griffin (27 points, seven rebounds) and Andre Drummond (15 points, 17 rebounds) led the way, boosted by twin 19-point performances from Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard.
"That's a really good basketball team," Drummond said. "They came out played hard the entire way, and they're known for playing that hard and playing aggressive and playing physical. I think we did a great job matching their intensity. All of our guys top to bottom, played tough."
The key cog has been Drummond, he of the league-leading 51 double-doubles. During this 11-game run, Drummond has averaged 20.7 points, 16.1 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 2.1 blocks while shooting 62.2 percent from the field and a respectable 68.5 percent at the line.
Overall, the team has produced a league-best offense (118.1 rating vs. their 107.5 overall mark) and its fifth-best defense (a 107.2 rating, closely hewing to their season line of 108) during their hot streak. Jackson catching fire has surely boosted that offensive jump – his true shooting percentage has been nearly 10 points higher during the streak.
Detroit opened the run 22-29, slotted ninth in the East, two games back of Miami for a playoff place. Now, it's the Heat on the outside, and Detroit looking at a potential matchup vs. the third-place Pacers.
"Before … the All-Star break, we found ourselves," Drummond said. "We know what it takes to win basketball games, and if we keep playing like that we'll be a very, very good team and go far in the playoffs."
Drummond seems … not wrong about the former. Time will tell on the other bit.
The Celtics were the latest victims laid waste by James Harden's buzzsaw season, with the Rockets guard going for 42 points in a 115-104 victory in which Houston nearly led throughout.
The loss, though it doesn't much imperil Boston's playoff hopes – they sit No. 5 in the East, a comfortable six games ahead of the Pistons – seals their hold on the league's worst record since the All-Star break at 1-5. The Celtics' offense has evaporated, with Boston posting a league-worst 102.0 rating in those six games. Their defense only dropping from top-5 to top-10 provides little solace.
Kyrie Irving, often expansive in his comments, pre, post and totally un-game-related, was notably terse in the locker room:
The tl;dr a repeated refrain: "Just gotta play better."
Westbrook wills a win
With the Thunder (minus Paul George) somehow in danger of dropping a home game to the Grizzlies without Mike Conley Jr. on the court, Russell Westbrook dug deep, scoring 12 points in the final 6:23 to eke out a 99-95 victory.
Crisis averted. But perhaps a little close to that fifth straight loss for comfort.
After Sunday's action, the notable outcomes in the East left the Pistons sixth, the Nets seventh and Orlando ahead of Charlotte (by percentage points) as well as Miami (1/2 game) for the eighth spot.
Out West, Oklahoma City and Portland are tied for third (though OKC holds the head-to-head tiebreaker) with Houston but a game back on that crucial fourth seed and its opening round home court advantage. The Clippers, meanwhile, continue to hang above the cutoff.
Here's how the board shakes out overall:
How to stop Trae Young
Hawks rookie Trae Young, whose ridiculous shooting has finally caught up to his sublime passing at the NBA level was tracking for another top-tier stat line (18 points, five assists in 18 minutes) against the Bulls when this happened:
Wait, what?! Here's the official explanation:
Transcript: NBA Referee Mark Ayotte Comments to Pool Reporter after Hawks – Bulls Game pic.twitter.com/j03CGABW0y— NBA Official (@NBAOfficial) March 3, 2019
Alex Len stepped up to score 28 points (five 3s!) in the 123-118 victory.
As they say – and the refs actually directly reference here – it's never the first one that gets you tossed. Young and Kris Dunn had gotten friendly earlier in the game, setting the stage for implications to emanate out of the post-shot posturing.
"I hit a shot, and I just looked in the arena," Young said "I didn't say anything. They made the call; I've just got to live with it."
"You try to play with energy, passion, emotion," he continued. "For me, I was just having fun. That wasn't the first time I looked at someone after I hit a shot."
Might not be the last, but mayyyybe not for a game or two to let that situation settle. For what it's worth, Dunn "felt like [Young] shouldn't have gotten ejected." #OnToTheNextOne