BOSTON -- With the third quarter winding down and the Boston Celtics’ deficit going into the fourth secured, no one gave much thought to the desperation, beyond half-court, bank-shot heave by Detroit’s Svi Mykhailiuk just before the horn sounded.
His shot went in and Detroit’s lead going into the fourth stood at nine, a bizarre ending to what had been a bizarre kind of game in which the Pistons led for most of the night before putting the Celtics away, 116-103.
Gordon Hayward had a game-high 25 points for the Celtics, with Jaylen Brown and Detroit’s Sekou Doumbouya each tallying 24 points.
The Celtics (27-12) have been among the better defensive teams all season.
But for most of Wednesday night, Boston’s defense was defenseless against the non-stop bombardment of shots by the Pistons that more times than not, went in.
Detroit was shooting better than 60 percent from the field most of the game, before eventually finishing the night connecting on an impressive 60.3 percent.
And while the Celtics were also shooting the ball at a good clip (49.3 percent) as well, their inability to string together defensive stops when it mattered most, was ultimately their undoing with Boston now having lost four of its past six games.
Here are a few other takeaways from a disappointing loss to Detroit:
It was another big game for Hayward, the kind of performance that far too often elicits a return of the “he’s back” narrative that’s the talk of the night whenever he seemingly plays well.
Still, it’s to the point where good games for Hayward have little to do with him getting back to where he was before his ankle injury a couple of years ago.
For Hayward, it’s all about looking and doing what he’s expected to do, only more consistently.
He led the Celtics with 25 points on 11-for-15 shooting while also making his presence felt on the boards with seven rebounds.
They needed him to be more of a scorer with Jayson Tatum (right knee tendinitis) out.
And to Hayward’s credit, he consistently came up with big shots to keep the Celtics within striking distance.
Tatum will likely be back in the lineup on Thursday night when the Celtics take on the team with the best record in the East, the Bucks (36-6) in Milwaukee.
But on those nights when he’s not able to go, the Celtics can rest easy knowing that Hayward can step in to help fill the void.
LITTLE FORCE, PHYSICALITY ON C’S PART
It’s easy to look at what happened Wednesday as Boston’s defense simply having one of those nights.
And while that does happen a good deal of the time in the NBA, the Celtics problems centered around their inability to play with any semblance of physicality.
The fact that the Pistons were minus three starters may have created a false sense among the Celtics that they didn’t have to play with the kind of force and intensity that we had seen in the previous two games.
Not having Tatum may have contributed to the lackluster performance as well.
Regardless of the reason, the end result was a given considering how Detroit at no point in the game seemed uncomfortable or forced to do anything it didn’t want to do.
And when you play that way, losing becomes a given.
It was a sight we rarely see - Tatum, on the bench in street clothes.
But there he was, the clearest indicator that we were in for an atypical night for the Celtics.
And while we’ve seen the Celtics rally behind one another whenever short-handed, things felt different on Wednesday as the Pistons clung to the Celtics for most of the night behind a barrage of jumpers and layups and three-pointers and…pretty much any shot they wanted.
Tatum’s absence wasn’t the only issue impacting the Celtics, but there’s no getting around the impact he has made as a scorer and defender on this team, this season.
And remember, this was the first game all season that the Celtics did not have him available to play.
As they tried to climb back into things in the fourth quarter, it was clear that they just didn’t have it in them or were missing something - or maybe someone like Tatum who had been a mainstay for every game this season prior to Wednesday night.
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