OK, so let’s look objectively at this game. There were many positives, certainly. First off, the Celtics won, 119-93. They led by double digits for over three-quarters of the game, and they survived a third-quarter surge from Detroit to reestablish their command and control of the game. Statistically, there was also a great deal to be proud of. Seven players scored in double-figures against the Pistons: every starter except for Rondo (who kind of had an off night, but that’s ok), plus Glen Davis, Michael Finley and Marquis Daniels, he with the diamond-studded shrunken head. The team dominated both in the paint (48 vs. 38 points) and on the perimeter (7 treys made, 62% shooting), and were better on fast breaks as well (21 vs. 12 points for the Pistons). Lastly, the Celtics for once won the rebounds battle and actually tied the opposing team for offensive boards with eight apiece. That’s huge for a team that doesn’t rebound well at all, especially when you consider that the Pistons lead the league in offensive rebounds. Defensively, the Celtics played very well (they held Detorit to under 50% shooting for the game) for about three quarters, then played their bench for most of the fourth to rest their starters. This meant that the much maligned bench actually wound up outscoring the starters, 61-58.
But let’s face reality here: the Pistons are terrible. They lack the speed and strength to compete with the big men of better teams, and they lack the coordination to really have a potent offense. They lead the league in offensive rebounds because they miss much more often than they hit baskets. Their big men are weak, the shooters are bad, and their offense on the whole is disjointed. Defensively, they’re slow to react to pick-and-rolls and don’t contest layups very well (just four blocks all game). For gosh sakes, they don’t even have a true center. Jason Maxiell is a forward pretending to be a center, and it means real centers can just body him up and keep him out of the paint. Against good teams like the Celtics, Detroit will always get eaten alive. And that’s what happened tonight: they got outmatched on both sides of the court.
The question is: can the Celtics do this to good teams in the NBA, or just bad ones? They looked great last night, and they looked great Friday against the Pacers, but those are both mediocre teams at best. Look at their games against Milwaukee and Memphis and Cleveland. All are much stronger teams, and all of them beat Boston rather handily (ok, Milwaukee was a close game, but it was still a Celtics loss). Faced with this reality, it’s hard to look at last night’s victory against the Pistons and say definitively that this team is moving in the right direction. They’re still playing 50-50 basketball, winning every other game. And in the bad games, all of the trends I’ve discussed in the past- not defending the trey, turnovers, inconsistent bench play, rebnounding, etc.- are on full display. The Celtics must find a way to play this consistenly well game in and game out if they want to be considered elite competitors this year. Right now they sit in 4th place in the Eastern Conference. Unless they move up, their first round opponent will likely be Milwaukee. If we get the Celtics that played Indiana and Detroit, we’ll be fine. But if we get the Celtics that’s looked so bad against teams of Milwaukee’s caliber, we might be in trouble. And despite last night’s win, I still don’t know which we’ll get.