Pistons push Celtics to the buzzer, lose on Tatum’s late jumper
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
Three quick observations from Sunday afternoon’s 122-120 loss to the Boston Celtics at Little Caesars Arena
THE GANG’S ALL HERE – After missing the past 1½ games while in NBA concussion protocol, Blake Griffin was back in his familiar spot in the starting lineup for the Pistons – and perhaps, and understandably, a little rusty. Griffin finished with 13, picking it up in the second half after going 1 of 6 in the first half. With Griffin’s return, the Pistons were whole – at least until losing Josh Jackson to an ankle injury early in the third quarter – and the fact they split with Boston – one of the East’s expected contenders, and pushed the Celtics to the final possession in Sunday’s matinee – in the two-game set at Little Caesars on 2021’s first weekend is impressive. The Pistons led by a point with under a minute left when Jaylen Brown drilled a triple from the right wing with 34 seconds to play. Jerami Grant’s two free throws with 22 seconds left tied the game, but Boston got a step-back jumper from Jayson Tatum with 2.9 seconds left to go ahead. Griffin’s shot at the buzzer was slapped away as he rose up.The Pistons and Boston traded baskets in a sizzling first quarter – the Pistons made 10 of their first 12 shots but the game was tied at 22 when that stretch ended – and led most of the first half, though the Celtics took a 61-57 lead into halftime behind Brown’s 22-point first half on 9 of 11 shooting. Brown finished with 31. Griffin came into the game averaging 16.3 points – given the small sample size, the fact he missed half of one of the three games on which those numbers were based is significant – and taking more than half of his shots from the 3-point arc. Dwane Casey used an 11-man rotation in the first half, likely a nod to the schedule with Monday’s game at Milwaukee not only a back to back but the third game in four nights. Included in those 11 were all three centers – Mason Plumlee, Isaiah Stewart and Jahlil Okafor – but not Svi Mykhailiuk. Okafor didn’t play in the second half and Mykhailiuk took Jackson’s minutes after his injury. Mykhailiuk scored 15 points in 15 second-half minutes as the Pistons finished with six double-figures scorers.
ROOKIE RANKINGS – The Pistons’ commitment to playing their young guys is evident in the NBA’s rookie rankings. Coming into Sunday’s play, Isaiah Stewart ranks first among rookies in rebounding at 6.7 per game and grabbed four in 15 minutes; Saddiq Bey was tied for second in 3-pointers made at 10 and upped that to 12 by hitting 2 of 3; and Killian Hayes was tied for second in assists per game at 4.0 and matched his number. Hayes had the best half of his fledgling career in the first and finished with five points, four assists and two turnovers. He could have easily had another handful of assists as the Celtics twice in the first half fouled shooters on layup tries after nice Hayes feeds and again in the third quarter on a clever pass to Mason Plumlee. With the shot clock under five after a jump ball and Hayes retrieving the ball at mid-court, he made a great find to Josh Jackson for a corner three that missed. Stewart played six first-half minutes with Casey using all three centers and didn’t add to his rebound total, more a function of the paucity of missed shots in the first half than anything else. But he grabbed four in nine second-half minutes and was again solid defensively. Casey said before the game he attributed Hayes’ subpar shooting – with the preponderance of his misses left short on the rim – to “overthinking.” “I think it’s a product of timing, indecisiveness on his shot, not being certain, ‘OK, am I taking a shot?’ Play basketball. It’s a product of overthinking things.” Casey said he tries to pick his spots to point out Hayes’ mistakes, urging the 19-year-old to “just play basketball, relax and have fun.”
NICE COMPANY – Jerami Grant’s 22 points give him 137 in his first six games with the Pistons after the 115 he’d put up in his first five games matched the total of the greatest player in franchise history, Isiah Thomas. Four players ranked ahead of Grant and Thomas on that list, including two other Hall of Famers – Adrian Dantley (second, 122 points) and Grant Hill (fourth, 119). Ben Gordon ranks No. 1 with 126 points and Rip Hamilton checks in at No. 4 with 122. It was Grant’s fifth straight game with 20 or more points. Grant got off to a hot start, hitting his first five shots. He played 34 minutes, the only time since he played 31 minutes in the opener at Minnesota that he hasn’t played at least 37 minutes. Another Pistons newcomer off to an impressive start, Josh Jackson, opened the second half with transition layups off of Boston turnovers on consecutive possessions. But he suffered an ankle injury when he was fouled by Daniel Theis on the second of those. Jackson stayed in the game to shoot the free throw, but the Pistons intentionally fouled on Boston’s inbounds pass to stop play and get Jackson out of the game. He did not return, finishing with 13 points in just 14 minutes.