BOSTON -- Lately it seems the Boston Celtics have been long on opportunities to see how they measure up against the NBA’s best.
On Friday, they took defending champion Warriors to double overtime before losing, 124-119.
And on Tuesday it was the team that Golden State beat in the finals, Cleveland, that Boston hung with for the first half but faltered in the second in an 89-77 loss.
Both games serve as clear indicators that when it comes to the NBA’s title contenders, the Celtics still have a ways to go before they can enter that conversation.
But when it comes to that next tier of talent, the Celtics (14-11) have shown they do indeed belong in that mix of company.
They'll get another shot at solidifying their status tonight when they travel to Detroit to face a much-improved Pistons team.
Detroit has won two of its last three games, although Celtics coach Brad Stevens believes the Pistons should be riding a three-game winning streak.
“I thought a lot of (their last) game, they outplayed the Clippers,” said Stevens, referring to Detroit’s 105-103 loss to Los Angeles on Monday. “Just got some unfortunate breaks at the end.”
One of the problems Boston experienced in its losses to the Warriors and the Cavaliers was the inability to deal with size around the rim. Not only did the Celtics have troubles at times defending the opposing bigs, but the bigger issue was their struggles at scoring around the rim, whether it be off post-ups or drives to the basket.
The Pistons pose a similar threat in the form of Andre Drummond, who has been arguably the league’s best center this season.
Drummond, a former standout at UConn, leads the NBA in rebounds with 16.3 per game. In addition to his boardwork, Drummond is also averaging 17.7 points while shooting 51.8 percent from the field. And defensively, Drummond is swatting away 1.5 shots per game and making 2.0 steals.
Detroit’s backcourt of former Boston College star Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope get lots of props for their scoring. But each has shown the ability to defend at a high level this season, evident by Jackson and Caldwell-Pope having a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 97.0 and 97.3, respectively.
“We’re going to have to play a lot better than we did (against Cleveland) to have a chance to win,” Stevens said. “And that’s a good team, on their home court.”
Boston will have to show improvement tonight, especially when it comes to scoring.
“I’m encouraged that we continue to guard and we played pretty well defensively the whole night (against Cleveland),” Stevens said. “But offensively we’ve just got to play better.”