Blakely: Victory was far from a beauty, but Celtics don't need to 'win pretty'

Blakely: Victory was far from a beauty, but Celtics don't need to 'win pretty'

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The NBA game is a thing of beauty most nights. But Sunday's game between Boston and Detroit left a lot to be desired. 

Lots of turnovers by both teams, free throws being bricked . . . a game that at times was painful to watch. 

And for the Celtics who escaped with a 104-98 win, this might have been the most beautiful game they've played all season.

Teams that rely on the 3-ball as much as Boston does, typically don't do well in the postseason. They tend to be more finesse than physical, more marshmallow-soft than mallet-hard.

But there was nothing soft about the way Boston played Detroit, a team that usually tosses them around like a rag doll around the glass. 

Not on Sunday, a night in which Boston won the battle of the boards 52-45.

And it was a slow-drip killing by Boston on the glass against Detroit, finishing each quarter with an overall rebounding advantage which speaks to how they never really allowed the Pistons to gain any significant traction on the boards. 

The Pistons, like they always seem to do, didn’t make things easy for the Celtics.

They blitzed Isaiah Thomas, forcing someone taller than 5-foot-9 on Boston's roster who averages less than 29 points per game, to step up.

There was Jae Crowder delivering a stealth job scoring and on the boards before finishing with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Marcus Smart was effectively crashing the glass with four of his five rebounds being of the offensive variety.

And then there was Jaylen Brown, the only rookie of significance to play in the game. He did more than just score 13 points, but delivered a back-breaking dagger of a 3-ball in front of the Celtics’ bench with 37.3 seconds to play that put the Celtics ahead 98-86.

This was the kind of performance by the Celtics that speaks to a team that’s starting to develop a deeper understanding that they're going to have to do more than just knock down 3's in order to truly be successful, especially on nights like Sunday when they didn't play one of their best games.

There was a stretch in the third quarter that on most nights would have been the demise of this Celtics team.

Leading 67-52 following a 3-pointer by Thomas with 9:06 to play in the quarter, Boston went nearly four minutes without scoring a single point, a span in which the Pistons scored 11 points.

“We started (the third quarter) out bad,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “I think we had six or seven turnovers in a row and things weren’t going our way. But we stayed together, kept fighting and things started turning for us in the end. We made plays down the stretch.”

Withstanding a slew of mistakes while still being able to defend well enough to hold on to a lead, is something the Celtics haven’t done nearly enough of this season.

But when they failed in this area earlier this season, there was always the possibility of addressing this via a trade at the deadline.

But that ship has sailed.

And the Celtics players, whether they want to embrace it or not, have to step up and secure the number two seed or better, in the East.

Doing so means getting the job on nights like Sunday when their best play isn’t present.

Doing so means winning a game with Isaiah Thomas giving you less than 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Doing so has to become more than a goal, but an expectation for Boston.

And Detroit was a great opportunity for them to do just that.

To Boston’s credit, they did just enough to leave the Palace of Auburn Hills for the last time (the team will move to downtown Detroit and play at the Little Caesars Arena next season) with a victory that was hard-earned and by anyone’s definition far from a thing of beauty.

And that folks, is what makes this victory just that … a thing of beauty for a team that has visions of parlaying a strong showing following the All-Star break into a deep playoff run that will surely be one in which they will not always play their best but still must find a path to success.

Smart for one was pleased with the Celtics winning in a not-so-aesthetically pleasing style.

“You don’t want to win pretty,” Smart said. “Especially getting ready for the playoffs and things like that. Games aren’t going to be pretty; there’s going to be some ugly games. The team that’s willing to get down and dirty is the team that’s going to come out of the series.”

NBCSB Breakfast podcast: Maybe next year will be the Celtics' year

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

NBCSB Breakfast podcast: Maybe next year will be the Celtics' year

1:31 - With the results of Kyrie Irving’s second opinion on he knee looming, the Celtic’s season is certainly up in the air. A. Sherrod Blakely, Chris Mannix, Kyle Draper and Gary Tanguay debate how and if Kyrie should be used if he returns.

6:02 - Back in October Michael Felger prematurely said the Bruins season was over. The B’s marketing team featured Felger in an ad for playoff tickets now that the Bruins have clinched the playoffs. Felger, Trenni and Gary react to the commercial and discuss the Bruins playoff chances.

11:47 - The Patriots are making moves! on Tursday the Pats made deals with LaAdrian Waddle, Marquis Flowers and Patrick Chung. Phil Perry, Michael Holley, Troy Brown and Tom Curran discuss how despite these moves, the Patriots should still be in search of a left tackle.

Greg Monroe looking forward to his 2nd taste of playoffs

File Photo

Greg Monroe looking forward to his 2nd taste of playoffs

BOSTON – We live in a world filled with success stories that came about by accident. 

The invention of the microwave oven.

Post-It notes.

The creation of potato chips.

The Boston Celtics’ game-winning play against Oklahoma City earlier this week qualfies; a play in which there were multiple miscues made by the Celtics prior to Marcus Morris’ game-winning shot. 


All these Celtics injuries have made Brad Stevens a mad scientist of sorts with some unusual lineups that may be on display tonight against the guard-centric Portland Trail Blazers. 

In Boston’s 100-99 win over the Thunder on Tuesday, we saw Stevens utilize a lineup with Al Horford and Greg Monroe, in four different stints.

Monroe, who had 17 points off the bench - the most he has scored as a Celtic -  enjoyed playing with Horford.

“Al’s so smart. He’s seen it all in this league,” Monroe told NBC Sports Boston. “He’s an all-star. Very cerebral player, unselfish. So it’s easy playing with him. He can space, drive, make plays. I feel like I can make plays, driving. It’s fun playing with him. I look forward to getting out there with him more.”

Horford had similar praise for playing with Monroe.

“Coach (Brad Stevens) made a great move bringing Greg back in, in the fourth, playing us together,” Horford said. “He made some great plays, passing the ball and just … timely plays. It’s one of those things, the more we play with each other the more comfortable we’ll get. I thought it was very positive.”

Monroe’s role has become significantly more important with the season-ending injury (torn meniscus, left knee) to Daniel Theis. And his ability to play well with various lineups will only improve Boston’s chances of weathering this latest storm of injuries which comes on the eve of the playoffs. 

And while there’s a certain amount of pleasure all players take in being on a playoff-bound team, Monroe understands better than most NBA veterans just how special it is to be headed towards the postseason.

In his eighth season, this will only be Monroe’s second time participating in the playoffs. 

The first time? 

That was last year, with the Milwaukee Bucks. 

“This is what everybody plays for, I hope,” Monroe said. “This is what I play for, to get into the postseason, make a run. It’s the best situation. I’ve been through a lot in my career, this year. I’m grateful. I don’t take anything for granted. I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team.”

And he has done that lately.

Monroe comes into tonight’s game having scored in double figures each of the last four games, a season high for the 6-foot-11 center. 

Having spent most of his NBA career watching instead of participating in the playoffs, Monroe is out to prove that he can in fact be a significant contributor to a team that’s postseason-bound.

“For sure. You have to have a little chip, a little fire, at least in my eyes,” Monroe said. “I’ve never doubted myself. It’s about being between those lines and being the best player I can be. That’s what I’m focused on.”