“Low focus” are the words color commentator Brian Scalabrine used to describe the Pistons play of late before the game, having lost 27 consecutive games coming into Thursday night’s heavyweight battle.
The Celtics, on the other hand, were plenty focused, coming off a great West Coast trip and a 14-0 home record. Has any matchup ever been more lopsided coming in?
Surely nothing can go wrong here. Right?
The Pistons were dialed in from the jump, with Cade Cunningham scoring a quick eight points and grabbing a 12-6 lead early. Cunningham has been the lone saving grace of this car-crash-turned-train-wreck-turned-extinction-level-event, and it’s clear that Head Coach Monty Williams wanted to run things through him early.
Cunningham was legitimately unstoppable in the first half, torching the Celtics up and down the floor while looking totally unstoppable downhill. This shouldn’t really have been a problem with the plethora of guard defenders and rim protectors the Celtics have, though.
With Jaylen Brown missing Thursday night’s contest with a back injury, I expected Head Coach Joe Mazzulla to keep the rotations intact and start Sam Hauser in his place. However, with a back-to-back against the Raptors slated for Friday, Al Horford slid in given he wouldn’t be playing tomorrow anyway.
This led to an ultra-huge lineup consisting of three players over 6’8” and one 7’3” guy, which promised to be fairly awkward for a Pistons team starting Kevin Knox II at the 4. On certain post-up possessions, it feels almost unfair to have Porzingis operating down low. If the Celtics could win the three-point battle—something the Pistons seem to let everyone do—things should have been simple enough.
Right? Right guys? Right. Guys.
The Pistons are legitimately terrible at shooting threes, 29th in the league in team three-point percentage. This was evidenced early by a few truly awful bricks, with threes from Cunningham and Knox clanging off the rim at awkward angles.
But the Celtics didn’t exactly come out sniping either, starting 1 of 9 from deep and falling down 28-17 early, forcing a timeout. I began seeing visions of a disastrous loss, seeing as this was the trappiest-trap game in the history of trap games. Some butterflies began fluttering around in my stomach.
No matter what me, you, or anyone else says, the Celtics are never going to stop shooting threes. The first quarter finished with two more makes as well as some better defense, only down 30-27 at the end of 1. Phew, crisis averted. Back to our regularly scheduled program.
(Check around the corner) Right?
Then came the second quarter stretch I like to call “Payton Pritchard Time”
The Celtics’ first lead came on a Neemias Queta missed free throw turned Pritchard offensive rebounded turned Pritchard made three. It was a big-time play, though the Pistons fired back with a couple of solid possessions. It was clear they weren’t going to roll over and let the Celtics blow them out in the second quarter.
Pritchard then proceeded to do the Isaiah Thomas, also known as the breakaway layup pretend-to-back-off and then quickly finished among the trees. Maybe it was just me smiling, but I loved being reminded of my guy IT4.
And then Pritchard missed three straight threes on two Jrue Holiday offensive rebounds. It’s pretty amazing for a shooter as talented as Pritchard to miss three in a row, so it was a fascinating moment. But that’s okay! Three-point variance happens. Hopefully this won’t result in anything too disast—
(feels a disturbance in the force)
And then came the stretch I will call the “what are we even doing” period, in which the Celtics turned the ball over at astounding rates and the Pistons began strapping shot after shot with Cunningham running the whole machine. The Celtics’ 1 for 9 start from three-point land turned into 4 for 20, and the C’s fell down 50-37 at the hands of a 10-0 Pistons run.
And then it got worse. The Celtics began watching by far the worst loss of the season materialize before their eyes and do absolutely nothing about it. It was like their car was being towed, and they just stood there doing nothing. The Celtics ended the half down 19, losing 66-47.
Brian Scalabrine opened the second half with an awkward acting-out of someone giving CPR, saying they needed to “resuscitate the team” and get things going. I was despondent, wondering what cosmic forces had conspired to make this happen.
But sometime during halftime, the injured Jaylen Brown slammed the emergency-failsafe “SHIFT ENERGY” button. The cosmic forces shifted unilaterally, and the third quarter saw the Celtics get to work on erasing a 19-point lead.
Step one was apparently to get Derrick White some new shoes, since he was slipping and sliding with whatever red pair he was wearing in the first half. He immediately nabbed a steal and dropped a dime to Al Horford for a dunk, so success on that front.
Step two was getting in the weight room, complete with an absolutely ferocious move on Jalen Duren, one of the beefiest dudes in the NBA who Tatum completely tossed out of the lane. The crowd loved it, and TD Garden turned into a bit of a party scene for a while as the Celtics roared back to down just one. One!
Step three was Jayson Tatum, which I guess is kind of a continuation of step two. Nobody on the Pistons could even approach guarding him, let alone stop him from getting to the hoop. He got downhill again, and again, and again. He kidnapped the entire Pistons roster and locked them in the weight room, shoving them around like a bunch of bowling pins on his way to the hoop.
The third quarter was an incredible display of basketball dominance. The Pistons turned the ball over in new and interesting ways, and Tatum just obliterated dudes over and over again. The 19-point deficit turned to a tie game by the end, knotted up at 82 and with the crowd legitimately doing backflips.
Fourth quarter time. The first four-and-a-half minutes was operation “everybody survive while Tatum sits,” and that went pretty well, tied up at 93 when he checked back in. But the Pistons weren’t about to roll over. You can’t manufacture need, and the Pistons needed this game so badly. They hadn’t won since October, and they had a chance to do it in the Garden against the best team in the league.
Presumably tired from carrying the Celtics in the third, Tatum was a bit of a no-show even when he came back. Not to worry, as Kristaps Porzingis began finding small dudes in the post and just took one half-step and shot over them. It was pretty unstoppable, even netting Porzingis an and-one and the Celtics the lead.
And then at the two-minute mark, up three, Porzingis stared down a straightaway three and stuck it! What a shot! This dude rocks! How is this allowed?! How are the Celtics allowed to have this guy?
But then Jaden Ivey happened, converting an and-one and then lacing a corner three to tie up the game. I wasn’t familiar with his game, but the former fourth-overall pick wasn’t letting this one go easily.
And then the goaltending call happened, with a Jayson Tatum spin-layup controversially called a goaltend by Cunningham. The replay review really could have gone either way, so I don’t really know what to think. 8 seconds left, 108-106 Celtics.
Then Cade Cunningham took a fadeaway three, which missed… but Bogdonavic comes out of nowhere! He hit a putback to tie the game with 4.6 seconds left. Timeout Celtics.
Inbound by White, Tatum turnaround… for the win… it’s off. Overtime.
This game is officially absurd, with more emotional swings than a poorly-written Holiday romantic comedy. All of this ridiculousness came out of one simple issue: getting pounded on the glass. The Celtics were not boxing out nearly well enough, and were losing every 50-50 rebound towards the end.
Overtime didn’t change that, and the Pistons were jumping around like flying-fish, tipping everything out and risking life and limb to make stuff happen. It was pretty remarkable to watch, a team desperate for a win so bad they don’t even care how many bruises they wake up with.
But the Celtics have a couple of bruisers of their own in White and Holiday, converting back-to-back and-ones to take the lead back 116-115, the latter fouling out Ivey, who was obliterating the Celtics until then.
And then there’s a steal, and a White straightaway three! BANG! BANG!! White is the best basketball player in the world! All-Star! MVP! Hall of Fame! Book it!
If you couldn’t tell, all efforts to keep this composed have been thrown directly out the window. A game in which the Celtics were favored by 17 has my heart rate pumping like Game Seven of the Finals and screaming “DWHITE” like a crazy person.
What opened as the easiest on-paper game ever turned into the best game of the season, which is about what you’d expect from a Celtics team that loves to toy with my heartstrings.
What a game, what a win.