Despite great shooting, the Celtics did not match up well with Detroit
One of the trends throughout Boston's 16-game winning streak was their poor shooting. The Celtics survived many ugly shooting performances, especially from Marcus Smart and the second-unit, time and time again while still ending victorious. Yet, even though the shooting was finally on point Monday night against the Pistons, they lost by 10 points.
A few days ago, Marcus Smart was shooting 26.5% from the field on the whole season! He's been a liability on the offensive end through the first 18 games and was on pace to have a historically bad shooting year. Against the Pistons, though, he was 8-13 from the field (61.5%), converted on six of his nine three-pointers (66%), and had a team-high 23 points, as Tom Lane already broke down.
Outside of Smart, the rest of the bench was terrific against the Pistons. This has been an issue for the Celtics this season - the second-unit has struggled to score on their own, with the exception of the red-hot Terry Rozier. However, that was not the case on Monday night. Daniel Theis had a career-high 12 points without missing a field goal attempt. Aron Baynes also didn't miss a shot, and Semi Ojeleye and Rozier together shot a respectable 2-5. If you combine this with Smart's contributions, the bench as a whole shot 17-25 (68%) from the field and 8-12 (66%) from three. As a team, the Celtics hit more than half of their shots (52%) in the game! So how in the world did they lose?
Oddly enough, the Celtics are doing better this season when Smart struggles with his shot. They are undefeated in games where he shoots under 30% (which is a lot, by the way), and are a very underwhelming 5-4 when he shoots north of 30%:
This adds more confusion to the infuriating Marcus Smart conundrum. Despite shooting the rock with historically poor efficiency, Smart is always in the positive for net rating. He'll be having one of his trademarked 1-11 shooting nights, but the C's will be up 20 on the scoreboard when Marcus is on the floor. As bizarre as it is, that's just Marcus Smart for you. In what he doesn't usually provide on offense, he makes up for on the defensive end. For every shot he misses, he gets a steal, secures a rebound among a sea of big men, or forces an opponent to miss too. Perhaps shooting so well against Detroit decreased his firey defensive instincts, since he felt like he was already pulling his weight for the team.
However, if we know this tenacious guard at all, then we know that is unlikely the case. Smart grinds 24/7, regardless of the score or whether he's contributing on offense, so I wouldn't blame that for the loss. After all, Smart was still a +9 on the night.
Rather, they lost primarily because the Pistons had favorable matchups. Defensively, no one in the entire league guards Kyrie Irving better than Avery Bradley does, as Brad Stevens and Celtics fans can attest to. That was instantly a huge advantage for Detroit, as it canceled out much of Boston's offensive dependancy (especially in the fourth-quarter). At the beginning of the night, Stevens was staggering Kyrie's minutes with Bradley's minutes in attempt to best utilize the star point guards time on the court:
I love how Brad is staggering Kyrie’s minutes with Avery Bradley. He knows firsthand how well Bradley defends him
However, Stan Van Gundy soon caught on. From that point forward, the two coaches were playing chess with each other, mimicking one another's actions by subbing out Bradley whenever Kyrie left the floor, and vice versa.
Their matchups on offense were favorable too, though. Boston had nobody who could slow down Andre Drummond. The seven-foot beast had his way in the post all night and posted 26 points on 10-12 shooting from the field while continuing to surprise opponents with his decent free-throw shooting (6-8 on the night).
Also, Tobias Harris proved to be a major problem for the Celtics. The swingman finished with a game-best 31 points and shot 11-16 (5-6 from three). He has been terrific this year and has taken the leap as a primary scoring option that the Pistons needed. In a close game, Harris got a favorable matchup against an undersized Smart and used this move to score over him:
The Pistons are here to stay in the Eastern Conference, and Brad Stevens will need to adjust to the matchups moving forward to find a way to contain Drummond and Harris. Meanwhile, I don't know if I should be excited or terrified about Smart's recent sharpshooting...