Celtics send Pistons into All-Star break on sour note with dominant 2nd half
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Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 118-110 loss to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden
LOOKING UP – The Pistons and Celtics are both wing-heavy teams in keeping with the NBA’s trend toward stockpiling perimeter players with an eye toward spreading the floor with multiple shooters. The difference – at least with Wednesday’s loss as evidence – is Boston’s greater size at the position gives the Celtics more offensive flexibility. In part due to the absence of guards Kyrie Irving (knee) and Terry Rozier (illness), Boston started an oversized backcourt of Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward with Marcus Morris and Jayson Tatum at forward and Jaylen Brown and Semi Ojeleye off the bench. Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard are the Pistons wings with the most size since last week’s trades sent away Stanley Jonson and Reggie Bullock but even Brown and Kennard give up size in any matchup they found themselves engaging. It becomes even more pronounced for Langston Galloway or Wayne Ellington. Boston outscored the Pistons 52-36 in the paint and outrebounded them 47-41. With the Pistons – who’d shoot .365 from the 3-point arc while going 6-3 over the previous nine games – struggling to knock down perimeter shots (13 of 40), Boston’s size edge was decisive. And when Marcus Smart hit three triples late in the third quarter to give Boston a 17-point lead, the Pistons were in a deep hole. Their deficit swelled to 28 with nine minutes remaining before they went on a 20-2 run to pull within 10 with four minutes remaining, but triples from Al Horford and Marcus Morris ended the unlikely upset bid. The Celtics held a five-point lead at halftime, though got there circuitously. Boston opened the game on an 8-0 run and put together an 18-0 run that spanned the first and second quarters, but the Pistons wedged a 17-0 run between those spurts. Blake Griffin scored 20 of his 32 in the first half. Andre Drummond finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds and four steals, his second straight four-steal game.
MAKER’S LONG LOOK – Dwane Casey’s fondness for Thon Maker has developed quickly. He used Maker in tandem with each of Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Zaza Pachulia in the Boston game. Maker replaced Griffin late in the first quarter and played alongside Drummond. He opened the second quarter alongside Griffin. Five minutes into the second quarter, Casey brought Griffin back into the game but for Pachulia, not for Maker. Maker’s strength is his length, defensive mobility and motor. He’s active at both ends. He’s also capable of putting the ball on the floor, something he did to produce a first-half basket and a pair of second-half free throws. He’s also shown himself to be a competent corner 3-point shooter, but he had no luck with that in Boston. Four of his five 3-point attempts were from the corners and he missed them all. Maker finished with six points, three rebounds, a blocked shot and an assist in 19 minutes but finished 1 of 7 shooting. Maker has supplanted Jon Leuer – inactive a second straight game – in the pecking order and his acquisition paved the way for the Pistons to release Henry Ellenson, taken eight spots after Maker went 10th in the 2016 NBA draft, to make room for the signing of Wayne Ellington.
SHOOTING SLUMPS – The addition of Wayne Ellington and Svi Mykhailiuk gives Dwane Casey plenty of options on the wings, but he’s continued to roll with Langston Galloway through his shooting slump. Galloway came off the bench after starting the previous two games since the trade that sent Reggie Bullock to the Lakers for Mykhailiuk and a 2021 No. 2 pick from the Lakers. He continued to struggle, though, missing all three of his shots in 11 minutes and finishing without a point, rebound or assist. In the previous 15 games coming into the Boston loss, Galloway carried shooting percentages of .312 overall and .269 from the 3-point arc in 19 minutes a game. Ellington offers more size and has been a 38 percent career 3-point shooter and the Pistons put on a full-court press to win him after he was waived by Phoenix last week, so he’s likely to get plenty of rope as he works his way back into playing condition after appearing in only five games with Miami since Christmas. Ellington, who went 1 of 8 while missing all seven of his 3-point attempts in his Pistons debut on Monday, missed his first four triples at Boston before making one on the last possession of the third quarter. He finished with 13 points, scoring 10 in the fourth quarer, and hit 3 of 10 triples.