AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The fourth quarter rolled around and the Boston Celtics got something they seldom get at that time – big plays made by someone not named Isaiah Thomas.
A 3-pointer from the corner by Jaylen Brown and a hustle play by Marcus Smart proved to be the difference for Boston as they held on for a 104-98 win over the Detroit Pistons.
Trailing 96-95, Brown drained a 3-pointer and was fouled on the play.
On the miss, Smart grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
Smart, who had 14 points and five assists, made both free throws that put Boston up 100-96 with 37.3 seconds to play.
The Pistons would never get any closer as the Celtics (38-21) snapped a two-game losing streak and just as important, won the head-to-head series three games to one.
While it’s unlikely these two will finish the regular season with an identical record, the Celtics need to win as many head-to-head battles in the East as they can just to make sure they don’t run into a situation like they did last year when they finished in a four-way tie and ultimately wound up as a fifth seed.
Despite winning three of the four meetings this season, the Pistons (28-31) never make it easy.
A strong finish in the third quarter had Detroit trailing Boston by just five points going into the fourth. It soon became a one-possession game after Jon Leuer short jumper.
Smart got the Celtics on the scoreboard in the fourth by draining a jumper while being fouled by Andre Drummond. The 3-point play put the Celtics ahead 82-76 with 9:41 to play.
Detroit responded with an 8-2 spurt to tie the game at 84-all following a lay-up by Jon Lauer with 6:03 to play.
Boston scored four of the next five points to regain their lead, but there was no mistaking the Pistons were not going away anytime soon.
Throughout the fourth, Detroit began to get more of the 50/50 balls, resulting in second and third-shot opportunities which for several stretches proved to be the best play call for the Pistons.
Boston’s biggest weakness against Detroit, rebounding, was alive and well and as problematic as ever.
But the Celtics did just enough when it mattered to more than hold their own on the boards.
They finished +6 (51-45) on the boards against Detroit, leading after each quarter of play.
Detroit tied the game at 88 on a 3-pointer from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that rattled in with 3:55 to play.
Not surprisingly, the Celtics got the ball in Isaiah Thomas’ hands and he soon put Boston back on top 90-88 following a pair of free throws.
Detroit went ahead 93-92 following a trio of free throws by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope only for a Marcus Smart put-back basket put the Celtics back on top.
Caldwell-Pope wasn’t done. He drained a 3-pointer that put the Pistons (96-94) back on top with 2:08 to play.
Boston led by as many as 15 points, but saw their lead all but wiped away by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
Detroit, picking up its overall aggression and efficiency scoring the ball, were within 70-66 in the third before a turnover led to a Jae Crowder lay-up with about three minutes to play in the quarter.
Boston began to surge away with Terry Rozier draining a 3-pointer followed by a pair of free throws that put the Celtics ahead 78-69 with 1:32 to play in the third.
It was yet another example of the ‘Next-Man-Up’ mantra that has been instrumental to Boston being able to sustain one injury after another.
Rozier’s role was increased in part because of his play, but also because of Gerald Green’s heel injury. He would finish with 13 points off the bench.
But the Pistons continued to prove to be pesky bunch as they chipped away at Boston’s lead which stood at 79-74 going into the fourth quarter.