The idea every game for the Boston Celtics is to play a little better than they did the previous game. It’s the clearest signal for growth which more than anything else, is what the Celtics are striving to do consistently.
But as much as that might have been a focus against Detroit on Sunday, there was a bigger agenda item at work.
According to Kyrie Irving, Boston’s 91-81 win wasn’t about payback.
But make no mistake about it; that was an agenda-driven victory that wasn’t so much about sending a statement but more of a reminder as to where Boston is right in the pantheon of the NBA and where the Pistons hope to be someday.
Celtics players saw their first meeting on Nov. 27 as one of 82 games. If they win it, great. If not, oh well. Let’s keep it moving. But the Pistons saw it as so much more than that. They treated as a much bigger deal than Boston did, and the result was Boston suffering its worst loss of the season.
Their game on Sunday was a referendum on Boston still being the team to beat in the East not named Cleveland, and Detroit is still among a jumbled pack of playoff contenders.
And so both move on, Boston (23-5) maintaining the best record in the East while the Pistons (14-12) have now dropped six straight with no clear signs of snapping out of their doldrums anytime soon.
That would be the big picture takeaway from Sunday’s game.
But it’s not the only one.
Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 91-81 win at Detroit on Sunday.
There has been some noticeable and statistical slippage by the Boston Celtics recently on defense. On Sunday? Not so much. In fact, Boston wound up rendering a season-low 81 points. A big part of that was Boston’s unwillingness to give Detroit open looks. Of the 84 shots taken by the Pistons, 63 – that’s 75 percent – were contested. Throw in the fact that the Celtics have tremendous length when they do contest shots, it’s no surprise that the Pistons had major problems generating points.
He scored more points (18) than any other Celtic, but that just scratches the surface as to what he meant to Boston on this night. He was a rugged force around the rim, finishing one rebound shy of a double-double. And the offense went through him a lot, which explains the six assists.
KYRIE IRVING’S KRYPTONITE
There is no player in this league that does a better job of defending Kyrie Irving, than ex-Celtic Avery Bradley. Now don’t get it twisted. Bradley doesn’t shut Irving down. What he does is, he makes Irving work harder than he does against any player, to score. So the 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting while not great by Irving standards, is pretty good considering who he was being defended by.
The knock on him has been and continues to be, that he’s not as engaged as consistently as he needs to be to help his team. Give a lot of credit to Boston’s Aron Baynes for making Drummond for the most part, a non-factor. But some of the blame for Drummond’s dismal performance offensively (he was 1-for-5 and the one basket was a tip-in that upon further review looked as though it should not have been allowed), is on him. He was the biggest, strongest force on the floor on Sunday and had a very Drummond-like game in terms of rebounds (15). But this Pistons team needs him to be a steady presence scoring the ball as well. When he does that, Detroit can beat any team. But when he plays like he did on Sunday, the result more often than not will be what we saw – a Detroit loss.
He was justifiably praised for the job he did defensively on Andre Drummond. But as important as that was, often Baynes’ contributions offensively go unnoticed. For example, he had six points which equaled Drummond’s scoring. But what got overlooked was the job Baynes did in screening for assists. Boston had 16 assists for the game, with Baynes screening for eight of them. To put that in perspective, that was four times the total of the rest of the Celtics. And the nearest player to him in that category was Detroit’s Eric Moreland who screened for four assists.