Rajon Rondo extended his streak of 10-plus assist games tonight to 34 games, but the Celtics came away with a nasty loss at the hands of the rebuilding Detroit Pistons.
The game was marked mostly by the strong interior play of the Detroit Pistons, as second year Georgetown big man Greg Monroe abused the C’s interior defense, scoring a game high 20 points and grabbing a game high 13 rebounds for the Pistons, who won only their second game of the year tonight.
The only real silver lining for the Celtics in this one was the play of Jared Sullinger. The potential steal of the draft had his finest game of the year, scoring 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting in 27 minutes of play. This came just one night after posting his first double-digit scoring performance against the Raptors last night. All signs are that Sullinger is going to be able to contribute and begin to fill the void that the C’s have in the paint.
With Fab Melo optioned to the D-League and Darko Milicic missing the game for “family reasons” the door was wide open for Sullinger to get big minutes and make a big impact. This could be the start of something big for the Ohio State product who was at one point projected to be a top-5 pick in the NBA Draft.
But more than Sullinger’s promise, the C’s realized tonight that they need more than just Kevin Garnett in the paint. Milicic has played only four-and-a-half minutes the entire season, Jason Collins is a waste, and Melo wasn’t ready.
It’s left the aged Garnett to play out of position, and while he’s very good at doing so, it isn’t a reasonable answer for the Celtics when they face bigger teams. They are going to need something from Milicic, who was signed with the expectation of being able to play good minutes, or at least some minutes.
The Celtics simply can’t get the job done when Brandon Bass and Jeff Green shoot a combined 5-for-14 from the floor and grab four rebounds between them. Sullinger had one more than that by his lonesome, and contributed four more points than Bass and Green combined on two fewer shots. That signals a serious concern for Doc Rivers as he tries to find consistency in the paint to counter teams like the Pistons, who really have no business beating a contender like Boston.
As good as the Pistons can be, they’re nowhere close yet, and though Monroe is very good and Drummond has a lot of potential, if a frontcourt like Detroit’s can batter Boston, worse things can happen against teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, or the myriad of other teams that have bruising and imposing frontlines.
Beyond the problem that lost the game, the poor rebounding and poor interior play, the C’s also shot just 23.5 percent from behind the arc, nailing just 4-for-17 from distance. This won’t happen every night. But hired gunners like Leandro Barbosa and Jason Terry must do their job and hit their open shots, if the C’s are to remain a healthy offensive team. They’re not stacked enough that they can get by on the talents of one or two isolation players, because let’s face it: Rajon Rondo still doesn’t have a jumper, and Paul Pierce isn’t getting any younger.
The Celtics now sit at 6-5, but the real work is to be done in the postseason. The thing is, if the weak interior play and poor shooting isn’t addressed in the meantime, there may not be any postseason, even in the weak Eastern Conference. The Celtics are in 4th place of five teams in the Atlantic Division and there are nine teams with .500 or better records in the East this year. The C’s work is cut out for them now.