BOSTON – When it comes to teams that rely on one player to carry them most of the night like the Detroit Pistons, the Boston Celtics have usually figured out a way to either limit that player or keep their teammates in check.
But the Detroit Pistons’ best player Andre Drummond (28 points, 22 rebounds against Boston on Monday) and a few of his teammates caught a rhythm at the worst time for Boston – the fourth quarter.
So the Celtics did what they seem to always do when things get tough down the stretch … they turn to Isaiah Thomas.
And once again, the two-time All-Star didn’t disappoint in carrying the Celtics to a 113-109 victory.
But it wasn’t easy.
Boston had multiple opportunities to seal the victory in the final minute or so of play, but failed to do so.
Marcus Smart had a strong game for Boston (13 points, eight assists, five rebounds), but missed an uncontested lay-up and had a potentially costly turnover down the stretch.
But in a sign of this team’s growth, Boston’s defense made the necessary plays in each instance and just as important, grabbed those all-important rebounds to finish off good defensive series down the stretch on a night when they struggled mightily on the boards (Detroit out-rebounded Boston 51-34).
Thomas led all scorers with 41 points, with 24 coming in the fourth quarter as the Celtics (30-18) extend their winning streak to four in a row while pushing their lead over Toronto (29-19) to a full game with a Wednesday night matchup against the Raptors at the TD Garden.
Boston spent most of the game playing with a lead, but that all changed courtesy of Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 6:34 to play by Isaiah Thomas.
Caldwell-Pope, who had 18 points for the Pistons, made all three free throws which put the Pistons ahead 91-90.
Boston committed a five-second in-bounds turnover on the ensuing possession that the Pistons quickly converted into a basket to lead 93-90, only for Isaiah Thomas to come back with a 3-ball of his own to tie the game.
Caldwell-Pope fired back with a 3-pointer that Thomas once again matched to tie the game at 96.
It was becoming that kind of game with neither team showing signs of relenting.
The Celtics got timely free throws from Thomas and Jae Crowder who had 35 and 21 points, respectively, in the fourth.
And Boston went to the Hack-a-Drummond strategy with 2:46 to play and up 104-101.
It didn’t work as Drummond made both free throws to cut Boston’s lead to 104-103.
And once again, there goes that man, Isaiah Thomas, doing what he does better than anyone in the NBA – get buckets in the fourth quarter.
After Thomas’ 3-pointer with 2:28 put Boston ahead 107-103, it gave him 35 points for the night – 18 of which at that point had come in the fourth quarter.
Being a down-to-the-wire game was what fans should have expected after a tightly contested start to the game.
The Celtics fell behind 25-20 late in the first quarter before ending the first with six straight to lead 26-25.
Boston played a relatively close second quarter with the Pistons, but broke open a 28-all game with a 12-4 spurt that featured four different scorers.
The Celtics had been getting beat up around the rim by Drummond, so Boston soon began doing the same to Detroit’s backcourt.
Boston’s 6-foot-7 Jaylen Brown and 6-4 Marcus Smart began taking advantage of Detroit’s small backcourt by scoring in the paint and around the rim as they went into the half with a comfortable 54-46 lead.
The third quarter saw the Celtics push their lead to double digits for the first time following a 3-pointer by ex-Piston Jonas Jerebko.
Detroit chipped away at Boston’s lead which remained in single digits for the bulk of the third quarter which ended with the Celtics ahead 79-70.