Suddenly, the Boston Celtics look like a team ready to go to the NBA Finals. Of course, you could have said the same thing Feb. 16, and the Detroit Pistons escaped from that road contest with a buzzer-beating win courtesy of Kelly Olynyk. In a rematch on a rare noon Sunday game, the Pistons coughed up a lead in the fourth quarter and came away empty handed.
When: 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Watch: Bally Sports Detroit
Odds: Pistons +14 per DraftKings Sportsbook
Detroit’s previous victory over Boston snapped an eight-game losing streak for the Pistons, and since that win the team is 5-3 and the vibes are good. The Celtics are 6-1 since that loss to the Pistons, with their only defeat coming at the hands of the Indiana Pacers (ain’t the regular season great?). But they managed to beat the Nets twice, Pacers, Hawks, Grizzlies and Hornets. They are 17-7 in their last 20 games and in that span have a net rating of +16.1. The second-best team in that span, the Minnesota Timberwolves, are just +7.6. That means the Wolves are as close to the Celtics as the 17th-ranked Cavs (-0.6) are to the Wolves.
The Celtics are powered by Jayson Tatum who is trying to crawl into the rarified air of super-duperstar. He can only be crowned by making noise in the playoffs, but he’s using this final month of the regular season to add to his growing list of believers.
During the 20 games when the Celtics have gone supernova, Tatum is averaging 30.1 points and shooting a hair under 50% overall and 40% from 3. He’s getting to the line more than six times per game and averaging 7.4 rebounds and 5 assists. He’s doing it all for the Celtics.
Can the Pistons slow him down? Detroit has had the pleasure of facing the Celtics three times since they were able to really turn their season around. They are 1-2 and have done a decent job of keeping him in check. At least by his own lofty standards. He is averaging 24 points on 42% shooting against the Pistons.
As the season winds down, I am preoccupied with a few general concepts. First, every game against a really good team is a chance for Cade Cunningham to steal the spotlight, have a great game and really turn the narrative on who the Rookie of the Year should be. He’s playing great lately, but he could really use a statement game against one of the NBA’s best. The Celtics would certainly qualify.
Second, I am all in favor of more time and rotations featuring young guys like Marvin Bagley Jr., Isaiah Livers and Saben Lee and seeing more competitive losses. Perhaps the bar should be higher, but against a team as good as the Celtics, a competitive loss sounds pretty good to me.
Detroit Pistons (18-48)
Cade Cunningham, Cory Joseph, Saddiq Bey, Jerami Grant, Marvin Bagley Jr.
Boston Celtics (40-27)
Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Robert Williams, Al Horford