Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- On Friday night, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan absolutely torched the Boston Celtics. The game before that, it was Chicago’s Jimmy Butler giving the Celtics major fits with a barrage of baskets. 

Both were All-Star starters this year, the kind of lofty status that helps explain how the Celtics were so defensively-challenged in their efforts in limiting them.

Detroit doesn’t have a bona fide high-scoring perimeter star like those other teams, but don’t think for a minute that tonight’s game will be a breeze for the Celtics. Boston (37-21) comes in having lost two in a row to Chicago and Toronto, respectively. The Raptors loss was especially painful because it assured the Raptors would get the higher seed in the playoffs if these two teams finished with an identical record. 

Boston hopes to secure an edge over the Pistons tonight with a victory that will give them the season series, three games to one. While it may seem a bit early to get too caught up in tie-breakers and their importance, the last thing Boston wants is to finish the regular season tied with one or more teams, and wind up with the lower seed because they lost the head-to-head series. 

“You hear people say every game counts; it’s true,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “We need to win as many games as we can because you never know which game could be the difference between having home court or not.”

If Boston continues to find ways to win and finish with a tie-free, top-four finish in the East, they will begin the playoffs at the TD Garden for the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.

Meanwhile the Pistons are currently eighth in the East and, like the Celtics, they too opted to stand pat at the trade deadline. And like Boston, they are looking for growth from within as they try to make their way up the Eastern Conference standings. 

“We’re not real happy with how we’ve played up to this point overall,” said Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations and head coach. “But we still have a young group. As much as you would like the progress to be steadily uphill, it’s not always. That doesn’t mean you lose faith in your guys. At the end of the day, we ended up standing pat, which is pretty much what we expected to do.”

One of Boston’s biggest concerns coming into the game will be rebounding. It was among the many factors contributing to Boston’s loss on Friday. But as much as execution at both ends of the floor will be a factor, effort will be just as vital if not more, to the success of the Celtics in the playoffs. There were plenty of reasons as to why Boston lost on Friday night, with effort being near the top of the list. 

“They played harder than us,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder. 

And that was surprising when you consider what was at stake – a chance to push their lead over Toronto to five games with a couple dozen to go.

Rookie forward Jaylen Brown has heard all the reasons and explanations as to why the Celtics have hit a mini-hiccup following back-to-back losses. And he has also heard how Boston blew a golden opportunity to beat Toronto with Raptors all-star Kyle Lowry still out. 

“We didn’t have one of our key guys, either,” said Brown, referring to Avery Bradley still being out with a foot injury. So it’s basketball at the end of the day. It doesn’t’ matter who is on the floor. You have to do your job; we just have to do our job.”

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

1:13 - The Celtics came away with a 105-100 win in Portland on Friday night. Find out why Chris Mannix is calling this the best Celtics win of the season.

6:05 - Mannix discusses details about Kyrie Irving’s ‘minimally invasive’ procedure on his knee and what his level of concern is with A. Sherrod Blakely and Gary Tanguay.

10:03 - Michael Holley and Tom Curran discuss what NFL players, including Devin McCourty, are doing beyond the gridiron by being active in criminal justice reform discussions held at Harvard this week.



Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

When you think about Marcus Morris these days, big-time scoring immediately comes to mind. 

But in Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over Portland, Morris’ contributions went beyond the game-high 30 points he dropped on the Blazers.

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“Coach (Brad Stevens) is doing a great job of getting me the ball in my spots and my teammates are finding me,” Morris told reporters after the win. “And I’m just coming through.”

He’s providing strong play and a tremendous presence at both ends of the floor which has been critical to the team navigating some choppy waters with a number of regular rotation players – namely Kyrie Irving – out with injuries.

“One thing is, he’s healthy,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the sore knee that limited Morris earlier this season and at times forced him to miss games. “And the other is, he’s just more confident, he’s playing very assertive. He’s playing great right now, in a really good rhythm.”

Said Stevens: “That’s been him (Morris). As he’s continued to feel better; I think physically he’s felt as good as he’s felt. He’s comfortable in our system and we need him to score. If you’re a basketball player and your job is to score, that’s a pretty good job.”

And it’s one that even with all the injuries Boston has played through, few envisioned him being such an integral part of the offense. 

Morris’ calling card prior to arriving in Boston was his defense. 

But Morris has made it known that his focus on the floor is to be as complete a player as possible.

“I’m not trying to just limit myself to just being that scorer,” Morris said. “Also, on the defensive end I think I’m bringing it; my defense has gotten a lot better, especially my on-the-ball defense. I’m trying to be that all-around player and not just an offensive player … but I can score.”