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Pistons vs. Celtics preview: Isaiah Thomas is small, but he’s a big problem

The Pistons will take on the Boston Celtics on TNT, where hopefully they fare better than their previous two national TV games.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season started, the Pistons and Celtics were pegged to be the two teams in the East to settle in behind the Cavaliers and Raptors at the top of the conference. The Celtics are holding up their end of the bargain, while the Pistons are struggling to play any defense and have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league.

The Pistons looked like they were starting to turn things around after a three-game win streak, but since then they have dropped games to the Sacramento Kings and Miami Heat and things are back to looking bleak.

Nothing like trying to stop a losing streak playing on the road against one of the better teams in the East

Game Vitals

Where: TD Garden in Boston, MA

When: Monday, Jan. 30 at 8:00 p.m. EST

Watch: TNT


The Celtics courted Kevin Durant in the offseason to no avail. However, they got a very solid consolation prize in Al Horford. While Horford has missed a few games due to injury, he is averaging a career high in blocks and assists for the Celtics. His rebounding is down a bit, but he has still been one of the better all-around big men in the game.

However, the story for this season for the Celtics has been the emergence of Isaiah Thomas as one of the premier scorers in the league. He comes into action averaging a career-high 29.1 points per game. He is one of a few players this season with a 50-point game, as he scored a career-high 52 points on Dec. 30.

The Celtics’ weakness that the Pistons will need to exploit is their rebounding. Boston is 28th in the league with a 47.7 rebound percent. It has been a weakness of the Celtics for a few years, and Al Horford has not helped much with it because he has never really been a great rebounder. To illustrate the Celtics’ poor team rebounding, their leading rebounder averages only 6.9 rebounds a game... and is also a shooting guard (Avery Bradley).

Andre Drummond struggles with big men with range, which is exactly what Al Horford is. Hopefully, Stan Van Gundy cross-matches Andre with Amir Johnson and has Jon Leuer engage Al Horford. However, neither Horford nor Amir Johnson have any chance at containing an engaged Drummond on the glass. I expect Andre to exploit the Celtics poor rebounding and get some desperately needed second chance points early on.

If the Pistons opt to put Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on Isaiah Thomas, as I expect they will, he will have his work cut out for him. Containing Isaiah Thomas has been a very difficult task for every team in the league this year, especially in the fourth quarter. Thomas averages a league-best 10 points in the fourth quarter alone. If it is a close game late, expect Thomas to take over, using his quickness and ability to get into the paint to create shots for himself and others.

Because of his small stature, though, Isaiah Thomas is a very poor defender, so it should allow Reggie Jackson to have a good game. If Avery Bradley plays - he has been dealing with a strained Achilles - and guards Jackson, then Thomas will be on KCP, who will have an opportunity to break out of the slump he has been in since returning from his shoulder injury two games ago.

The Celtics are a very good team with a lot of depth. They could run the Pistons’ bench out of the game if the bench plays as poorly as they have the last few games.

Lineup Projections

Pistons: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Jon Leuer, Andre Drummond

Injuries: None

Celtics: Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Al Horford

Injuries: Avery Bradley (strained Achilles)

Score Prediction

This has been a weird season for the Pistons, and they have had a tendency to randomly turn it on against better teams in the league. I think this could be one of those games. They have already beaten the Celtics at TD Garden this season, as well.

Pistons 108, Celtics 104

Community Question

Should the Pistons make a move to try and improve enough to make the playoffs, or stand pat and let this core sink or swim?