Celtics-Pistons preview: Could be a second-half showdown

Celtics-Pistons preview: Could be a second-half showdown

BOSTON – Depending on how you want to look at it, the Boston Celtics have been a team that cruises in the first half and crushes opponents in the second, or one who plays at its best when the game matters most.

Regardless, Boston (18-3) has been a better team in the second half of games this season.

Keeping along those lines won’t be easy tonight when they host a Detroit Pistons team that has played well, particularly in the second half of games … just like Boston.

In Boston’s 108-98 win over Indiana on Saturday, the Celtics were down 54-45 at the half only to bounce back with a dominant third quarter by outscoring the Pacers 37-16.

“We were kind of moving in mud there for two and a half quarters,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens following the win over Indiana. “Some shots went our way, which was good. We were fortunate to pull it out because we weren’t great the first two and a half quarters. To our guys credit, they kind of stuck with it and pulled together.”

That has been among the many strengths of this Celtics team, one that ranks among the league leaders in several categories in the second half of games.

Offensively, the Celtics are draining 5.9 three-pointers in the second half which ranks seventh in the NBA. In addition, they are shooting 39.2 percent (4th) from 3-point range as well as 13.7 free throw attempts (6th) which speaks to how in the second half of games, Boston has found success not only from deep but also do a good job of attacking defenses and getting to the free throw line which has been critical to them having a second-half offensive rating of 112.2 which ranks second in the league.

Defensively, the Celtics have been strong in the third and fourth quarters as well.

Their defensive rating is 95.6 which is tops in the NBA. They have also been extremely stingy when it comes to giving up points off turnovers (6.0, tops in the NBA), second-chance points (5.1, 3rd in the NBA) and fast-break points (3.2, 3rd).

But in the Pistons (12-7), owners of the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics will face a team which has been strong defensively in the second half of games this season.

Detroit (12-7) has a defensive rating (100.5) in the second half of games which ranks seventh in the NBA. The Pistons also rank in the top 10 in fewest points allowed off turnovers (7.8, 10th); second-chance points (4.9, 2nd) and points in the paint (19.7, 7th) in the second half.

While Detroit’s second-half defense is legit, you can bet the Celtics won’t be giving it too much thought heading into tonight’s game.

More than anything else, they will focus on what they need to do to extend their new winning streak to three in a row even if that means rallying from behind which is something that we’ve seen thus far this season, they’re really good at.


NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Breaking down the NBA offseason

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Breaking down the NBA offseason

1:26 - Kyle Draper, Mike Giardi and Steve Buckley react to Tom Brady’s comment on a Patriots Instagram post that said he’ll be showing up to camp early. Is Brady making up for lost time?

6:56 - Chris Mannix, Kyle Draper and Mike Giardi break down the NBA offseason moves that have happened so far and rank the best and the worst.

10:56 - The Red Sox picked up right where they left off, winning their first game back from the All-Star Break, 1-0, vs. the Tigers. Tom Giles, Michael Holley and Danielle Trotta break down the game and David Price’s performance.


New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

Marcus Smart is right where he wants to be, a member of the Celtics.

But Smart, 24, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal on Thursday, readily admits that there was a time not that long ago when he wasn’t sure about his future in Boston when negotiations didn't go nearly as smooth as he would have liked.

“At one moment, I didn’t really know what to think,” Smart said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. “My main focus has been on my mom and my family.”

His mother Camellia Smart was recently diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.

“When you go through adversity with something like this in your family, it puts things in perspective and everything else becomes kind of a blur to you,” Smart said.

One thing that is clear has been his Smart's impact on the Celtics.

The 6-foot-4 guard has been among the league’s top on-the-ball defenders for years, showcasing a level of defensive versatility that stands out.

Boston allowed just 99.5 points per 100 possessions when Smart was on the floor, which ranked among the league's leaders among guards who played 41 or more games.

And while he is often criticized for his shooting struggles (a career 36-percent shooter from the field, 29.3 percent from 3-point range), Smart still averaged a respectable 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game last season primarily as Boston’s first guard off the bench.

Despite a solid season, the free agent marketplace was not kind one to him.

One of the main reasons for that? Smart was a restricted free agent, which meant the Celtics would have the right to match any offer sheet he signed.

Smart was also hurt by the fact that there were fewer teams with the kind of financial flexibility to put forth an offer sheet that would make the Celtics strongly consider letting him walk.

But even before Smart hit free agency, Danny Ainge and the entire Celtics organization made it absolutely crystal clear that they wanted him back.

And as the free agency period dragged on, the Celtics - at least in their words - never hedged from that position.

In the end, those words were put into action. 

"Keeping Marcus in a Celtics uniform was a top priority, said Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations. "His intensity is unmatched, and the level of toughness that he brings to the team throughout the course of the entire season is second to none."

Smart acknowledged that the process became a bit frustrating at times.

“I didn’t know where I was going to end up at,” Smart said.

And while that uncertainty was difficult to deal with, Smart actually looks back upon the experience and describes it as “a fun thing.”

“As frustrating as it is,” Smart added, “not many people in the world can say that they’re in talks to play for an NBA team, to make a dream become a reality. Being able to do things they never imagined they would be able to do. This whole time, even with everything going on, me not knowing where I could end up, it was still fun, exciting for me.”

And those fun, exciting times will continue for the longest-tenured member of the Celtics.

“Boston loves me, I love Boston. Boston wants me to be here, I want to be here,” Smart said. “I am here so, we made it work.”