After a rough first half, Jayson Tatum exploded for 18 points in the 3rd quarter and finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists, leading the Celtics to a 111-99 victory. Robert Williams finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds (6 offensive), Sam Hauser and Malcolm Brogdon combined for nine threes, and Derrick White had 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. They improve to 38-16 and have five more games until the All-Star break.
Boston entered the game with the league’s 2nd best offensive rating (117.6) and 5th best defensive rating (111.7), per Basketball Reference. Top five in both categories typically equates to a championship contender, but the Celtics were 2-4 over their previous six games and appear to be clamoring for the All-Star extended rest. They had a chance to get an easy win against a Detroit team with the league’s 2nd worst record, but would be without Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Luke Kornet.
The Celtics led 26-25 after the 1st and assisted on 8 of their 9 field goals. In his first career start, Hauser nailed his first two threes, but Tatum (1 of 7) and Horford (1 of 6) struggled from the field as Boston shot only 38 percent in the quarter. Bojan Bogdanovic might get traded at any minute, but for now he’s still a Piston, and he led them with nine first-quarter points.
Derrick White dominated the beginning of the 2nd quarter, scoring 10 points in the opening five minutes, which included this spinning and-1 layup off a backdoor cut:
The Celtics were hitting their threes, Detroit responded by sticking to the shooters, and White took advantage of the open space. The Pistons never let the lead get beyond 10, with the electric rookie Jayden Ivey leading an 11-2 run, highlighted by this tomahawk slam:
The Celtics regained control after Hauser splashed two more threes and they led 60-53 at halftime. Tatum only shot 3/13 in the half, but he got to the line 6 times. White had 15 points and 4 assists while Hauser also scored 15 on 5/6 shooting from deep. For Detroit, Bogdanovic scored 12, Jalen Duren had 7 points and 11 boards, and Ivey collected 8 points and 4 assists. Both teams shot an identical 20/45 (44 percent) from the field.
It didn’t take long for Tatum to snap out of his shooting slump. He hit a step back three over Alec Burks at the 8:52 mark after drilling a straightaway three the previous possession, and the Celtics jumped out to a 71-55 lead. He then hit two consecutive tough layups — the first featured him spinning through the lane and converting on a finger roll, and the second saw him drive baseline and finish over the bulky Isaiah Stewart. To top it off, he hit a step back three over Killian Hayes, and the Celtics took a 23 point lead.
Saddiq Bey answered by scoring or assisting on 7 straight points, not letting the game get out of hand. The Celtics led 90-72 going into the final frame, with Tatum going into “clinic mode” in the 3rd quarter, playing all 12 minutes and exploding for 18 points on 7/8 shooting.
With Tatum on the bench to open the 4th quarter, Boston had difficulty generating offense. For Detroit, Hayes swished a transition three and Hamidou Diallo connected on a floater the next possession, and the Celtics lead was cut to 93-82. Joe Mazzulla — choosing to amend his previous “no timeout” strategy — called a timeout to settle the troops, but Tatum stayed on the bench, and Detroit scored on their next two possessions, cutting Boston’s lead to 7.
Enter Tatum. His first play, two Pistons followed him off a pindown, and he easily found Robert Williams for the alley-oop. Williams then got two offensive rebound putback layups as the scrambling Detroit defense was out of position double teaming Tatum whenever he touched the ball.
The Pistons couldn’t get back into the game despite the typical sharp shooting of Bogdanovic and the surprisingly strong shooting of Hayes. With the floor spaced, Tatum handled the ball at the top of the key on each possession and took whatever the defense gave him. The Celtic would win 111-99. Detroit could have quit at any point in the second half, but they kept it competitive from start to finish.
The Celtics return home to play the Philadelphia 76ers this Wednesday at 7:30 pm EST.