Tonight at 7:30pm EST the Pistons will be in Boston to play against the team with the best record in basketball. The Pistons are on two days of rest following a close victory over the Thunder on Friday night, while the Celtics are on one day of rest following a win over the Pacers on Saturday, that was the second night of a back to back so this is their 3rd game in 4 days.
This is going to sound weird, but I don't really believe in the Celtics. The Pistons have had several games this season where I have said that “This team's record may not be that good but they are likely to turn it around, hope it isn't tonight” and I almost feel like this is the opposite. Admittedly, with every win they get this gets harder to honestly think, but I guess it is a hill I will die on. I believe that it was Howard Beck who said it best on the Lowe Post last week, this Celtics team is breaking with a whole lot of basketball truths that I believe in. Things like “Really young players (of which the Celtics are starting two of, a 19 and 21 year old, with both playing over 30 minutes per game) generally suck as a whole”, “When you make huge, wholesale changes to a roster it takes time for it to start working”, or “Kyrie Irving spends a lot of games as a net-negative” and yet here we are with the Celtics having the best record in basketball.
Regardless of my thoughts on their long-term prospects this year, they have been incredible so far and they have been doing it with defense. They sport the best defense in the NBA by a mile allowing 97.1 points per 100 possessions, nearly two points above second place OKC, while their offense has been mostly mediocre at 104.2 points per 100 possessions which is good for just 17th in the league.
They are lead by Al Horford, and don't let any fools who are slaves to points per game fool you, they are lead by Al Horfod, who is scoring just under 14 points and nearly 5 assists per game and shooting the ball incredibly well, while being the engine driving their league best defense. If the season ended today then Horford would have a real shot at defensive player of the year and it would be well deserved. Contrary to what you may have heard, Kyrie Irving is largely the same player he was, an incredibly skilled and very efficient scorer who gets tunnel vision too often (though less so in Boston) and has problems keeping up his focus on defense. Jaylen Brown has been incredible in his second year, scoring 16 points per game on great efficiency and has continued to make strides towards being one of the best defenders in basketball. Jayson Tatum is better than he has any right to be given that he is 19, but he is scoring efficiently and can do it in a variety of ways while at the same time largely hanging in defensively. Aron Baynes continues to be the same sort of guy he was for the Pistons, he can do a bit of everything but nothing all that well, ditto for Marcus Morris who is expected to play after missing the last couple of games with injury. Marcus Smart can't shoot at all but he is going to keep trying, but he is an absolute bulldog on defense and does all the little things that help you win. Terry Rozier can shoot from deep a bit but isn't all that remarkable, Semi Ojelye is theoretically going to be a nice player but he hasn't showed a whole lot so far, ditto for Daniel Theis. Shane Larkin is really fast as a point guard but not much else.
This is a rag-tag group of guys with a great defensive player in Horford, a great offensive player in Irving (and Horford is also pretty stinking good on offense), and a great coach in Stevens. I doubt they will stay even close to the pace they have set so far, but at this point it is hard to deny that perhaps this team is just going to be the outlier.
Matchups to watch:
Revenge Games: Avery Bradley in his first game back in Boston, Morris and Baynes in their first game against Detroit. Everyone left on largely good terms so it isn't a huge deal but all of them will have a little something extra tonight.
Andre Drummond vs. The Fishing Village: Baynes is big but doesn't have the athleticism to stay with Drummond, Horford is awesome but too small. Drummond has given the Celtics fits the past few years and hopefully he can keep it up. An important thing will be for him to encourage Baynes' base instinct to foul everything that moves because Baynes is definitely the Celtics best chance to contain Drummond.
Bradley vs. Irving: Guarding Kyrie is a big way in which Avery Bradley had made a name for himself. These games are the reason you love to have him, now its up to Bradley to go get the job done. Irving is so good that he may still have an awesome game of course, but Bradley will definitely make him earn it.
Tobias Harris vs. Staying Efficient: The Celtics are the sort of defense that are likely to make Tobias a passer, which means Tobias will be nudged towards his worst tendencies of either having to re-set possessions after being stopped on a drive or forcing bad shots. Even if he doesn't have a big game, it will be important for Tobias to pick his spots and stay efficient.
Bench mob vs. Bench mob: It hasn't really been true so far this year, but in theory depth should be a bit of an issue for the Celtics. The Pistons on the other hand have a really good bench. If the starters can play fairly even and the bench mob can open up some ground it seem to me as the most probable way the Pistons win.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Kyrie Irving is chucking away bad shots against Bradley's swarming defense and missing.
Andre Drummond continues to be a thorn in the Celtics side.
Avery Bradley revenge game.
Run for the hills if:
This team really is the outlier in so many basketball truths.
Kyrie is on his game and hitting everything no matter how hard the shots are.
Al Horford's skilled offensive game gives Drummond trouble.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Tobias Harris has a great game.
Kyrie Irving is held firmly in check.
Andre Drummond 20/20.
Pistons play their best game of the season while the Celtics lay their first dud in a long time and the Pistons have a fairly comfortable start to finish win.
Pistons 102 – Celtics 94.
What do you think? Are they the outlier? Can Drummond stay out of foul trouble?