So much has been made about the Boston Celtics feasting on lesser competition during their now-snapped eight-game winning streak and, while there absolutely is truth in that, the schedule hasn’t been as forgiving as some might think judging simply by the winning percentage of recent opponents.
It took three weeks, nine flights, and 12,000 air miles but the under-the-radar grind of Boston’s recent schedule seemed to catch up with the team a bit during Saturday’s 113-104 loss in Detroit.
Make no mistake, the Celtics had plenty of downtime in recent weeks and they were relatively healthy on Saturday night, though Al Horford remained out while strengthening a bothersome knee. This was a game that Boston probably should have won, even if the Pistons weren’t nearly as poor as a recent six-game losing streak might have suggested.
But Boston was simply flat for much of Saturday’s game.
"Just one of those games for us where we came in and I knew [the Celtics would] kind of have to grind it out,” Kyrie Irving told reporters in Detroit. Irving scored a team-high 26 points but on just 11-of-25 shooting. While our expectations for Irving are insanely inflated given his recent play, he simply didn’t have the magical touch he typically does while finishing around the basket. And Detroit did what they could to pull him from his comfort zones.
“[The Pistons] came out physical, they were pressuring me everywhere I went, and they were making it tough on us,” said Irving. "They played like a desperate team and so we get that. You’re battling uphill, and still giving ourselves a decent chance to win, we just didn’t have that extra push that we normally do.”
Irving ultimately shrugged off the loss while suggesting it’s “just basketball.” Later, he expounded on why he could live with a rare bump in the road.
"Everything is not going to look pretty every single night, in terms of scoring the basketball the way we’ve been scoring the last few games. So we understand that, in order to be special in this league, we gotta get stops,” Irving told reporters. "Blake [Griffin] got it going, as well as Andre [Drummond] on the boards. They came out and played desperate basketball and they were not the same Detroit team that we’ve been seeing on film the last few games and we understood that.
"They just had the will, more fight tonight, and it showed.”
The Celtics hadn’t lost since Nov. 24 in Dallas. But they were playing their third game in fourth nights, while Detroit was playing for the first time since Wednesday.
You might have noticed a rash of 7 p.m. tipoffs on Boston's home schedule this year. They are by design. Celtics coach Brad Stevens was among those that lobbied for tip times earlier than the typical 7:30 start, believing even the slightest bit of extra rest after games might aid everyone in the organization.
Like Irving, Smart wants the team to learn from Saturday’s loss but also won’t overreact to it.
“We’re disappointed but, at the same time, it’s one game for us,” said Smart. "We have been playing well so far so we can’t let this discourage us too much to start going down the slope. We can’t let this game compound to the next onto the next and onto the next. We gotta learn from it, gotta move on.”
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.