Three quick observations from Friday night’s 96-93 win over the Boston Celtics at Little Caesars Arena
HERE’S TO 2021 – So far, the Pistons like 2021 a lot more than 2020. The Pistons jumped on Boston early – it was 23-5 eight minutes into the game – and led by 21 at one point of the first half. But Boston’s dynamic forward tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 24 third-quarter points and the Celtics appeared on course to keep the Pistons winless at 0-5. Eventually, playing without Blake Griffin caught up to the Pistons as their offense stagnated in the second half and they didn’t have Griffin’s shot- and playmaking skills to fall back on. But Griffin’s absence – he’s missed 2½ of the first five games after sitting out the first back to back of the season earlier this week – after he wasn’t passed out of the NBA’s concussion protocol stemming from the blow to the face he took in Tuesday’s second quarter did crack the door for more playing time for rookie Saddiq Bey. Boston’s 33-point third quarter would have overwhelmed the Pistons without Bey, who went 4 of 4 from the 3-point arc in the quarter. He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. Boston’s 7-0 run to open the fourth quarter gave the Celtics their first lead and the Celtics went up by five with 4:15 to play but got stuck on 93 points. Bey split a pair of free throws with 26 seconds left to put the Pistons ahead by two points. The Pistons survived a missed triple by Jayson Tatum and, after an offensive rebound, a runner by Marcus Smart. Mason Plumlee put the Pistons ahead by three points by splitting a pair of free throws. Jaylen Brown’s attempt at a tying triple missed as the Pistons held Boston scoreless over the last 4:15.
STEWART STAYS PUT – Jahlil Okafor was back from the ankle injury that kept him out of the past two games, though it’s possible Dwane Casey didn’t think he was quite ready to go. In any case, it was rookie Isaiah Stewart who again served as Mason Plumlee’s backup at center. At the rate he’s going, Stewart is going to make it tough for Casey to take the 19-year-old out of the rotation. He continues to be an elite offensive rebounder, grabbing three more after coming into the game with 15 rebounds, nine of them offensive, in 38 minutes over his first two games. Stewart’s two first-half baskets both came on put-backs and he finished with eight points, six rebounds and a block in 18 minutes. Stewart is averaging 8.5 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. For comparison’s sake, Andre Drummond – the dominant offensive rebounder of his generation and the Pistons franchise career leader – has averaged 5.5 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes for his career. Stewart is very unlikely to keep up that per-36 pace, but doing what he’s doing is impressive stuff and gives him a very useful took to justify playing time while he learns the ropes to become proficient in other areas.
GRANT’S HOT START – Jerami Grant isn’t taking long to validate Troy Weaver’s decision to splurge in free agency by giving Grant – considered a role player to this point in his career, even if a very good one – high-end starter money. Grant, who got the Pistons off and running with 18 first-half points on his way to 24 points, came into the new year averaging 22.8 points and 6.0 rebounds on efficient shooting numbers. Dwane Casey has especially liked the results when Grant has played power forward this season and with Blake Griffin idled, that’s where he was at for all of his 37 minutes in the win over Boston. Grant hit 7 of 11 shots in the first half but shot in tough luck in the second half, hitting just 2 of 13 shots. But he hit a tough runner to start the 8-0 run to finish the game for the Pistons.