The Celtics, who had started generating a bit of a national buzz, especially after taking the Golden State Warriors to double overtime last week, have now dropped three of their last four games, falling to 14-12 and sit outside the current Eastern Conference playoff picture.
There is no reason for panic, but the Celtics are surely frustrated by this little funk. This young Boston squad missed a chance to really make a statement against Golden State and, despite bouncing back with maybe the gutsiest win of the season by stealing one in Charlotte the next night, the Celtics have failed to build off that win.
Eager to show the Cleveland Cavaliers how far they've come since last season's playoff sweep, the Celtics turned in an offensive dud Wednesday. Boston forgot to pack its defensive intensity for the quick trip to Detroit and gave up a gaudy number against the Pistons.
The Celtics can pluck some positives from Wedneday's loss:
Zeller ready when called upon
Celtics big man Tyler Zeller started the 2015-16 season as the team's starting center, but that lasted only three games and he has been in mothballs pretty much since. The 25-year-old Zeller has logged less than 91 minutes of floor time in 13 appearances off the bench, an average of less than seven minutes per game. What's more, three of the nine DNPs that Zeller has logged this season came last week.
With Boston in need of a spark Wednesday, coach Brad Stevens rolled with Zeller, who responded with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and three rebounds over 10 minutes. Zeller, who admitted to reporters after the game that it has been difficult to stay game ready due to a lack of floor time, didn't show many signs of rust. He showcased again that he can be an offensive weapon around the basket.
Will it lead to more floor time for Zeller? It's hard to say. The Celtics will eventually get a boost when Marcus Smart is able to return (though there's still no firm timetable on that). Smart's presence will help a thin backcourt but could also limit the need for Stevens to lean on the likes of Zeller and David Lee (at least if Boston continues to utilize smaller lineups with players like Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko at the power forward spot). But there's room for a fourth big and if Zeller can return to a consistent force, it might diminish minutes for Lee, whose on/off court splits have been an eyesore despite his occasional offensive outbursts.
Through it all, Stevens has maintained Zeller will help the Celtics this season and implored him to stay ready. For a Boston team that needs more offensive consistency, Zeller can help (even if the season numbers suggest otherwise with Boston's offensive rating a measly 96.2 when Zeller is on the floor and bouncing up to 101.4 when he's not).
Beating the Drum(mond)
The Celtics put an obvious focus on limiting Pistons big man Andre Drummond and were successful -- of about as successful as you can be against a player who put up 16 points and 12 rebounds. Only five times this season has Drummond been limited to fewer than 12 rebounds in a game. What's more, Boston won the overall battle on the glass, 44-36.
The flip side: Boston's attention to Drummond gave additional space to Detroit's perimeter players and the Pistons shot a sizzling 52.4 percent beyond the 3-point arc (11-of-21 overall). Anthony Tolliver (3-of-4 on 3s), in particular, hurt Boston when left open.
And, as much as the Celtics kept Drummond quiet, it's impossible not to think back to his half-court heave heading into halftime in a game that was ultimately decided by three points.
Still, it's a credit to Boston bigs like Jared Sullinger for the job he did in keeping Drummond off the glass. Sullinger came back with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting with 10 rebounds in Wednesday's loss.
The force awakens
Not quite to the extreme of Zeller, but Jerebko's minutes have seen a dip this season because of his offensive struggles. Stevens leaned on Jerebko for 16 minutes on Wednesday night and the former Pistons forward responded with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting and three rebounds.
Jerebko hit a trio of big-time 3s late to give Boston a chance to hang around, but he also missed a layup near the rim with 10 seconds to play in a three-point game. Still, Jerebko just needed a decent shooting night to restore some confidence. A key cog in Boston's second-half surge to the playoffs last season, Jerebko can help this team if he simply focuses on making hustle plays and knocks down open shots when they come his way.
The IT department?
It shouldn't go unnoticed that Isaiah Thomas matched a career high with 38 points on 12-of-20 shooting. Thomas' night was offset in part by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scoring 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting. On a night most of his teammates were in the negative, Thomas was a team-best plus-13 in plus/minus and had 7 assists, 3 rebounds, and 4 turnovers to his stat line.
Thomas' only blemish? The Celtics had clawed to within four with about three minutes to play in the fourth quarter Wednesday. Thomas was whistled for a three-shot foul when, believing Stevens had instructed him to give a foul, Thomas made contact with Reggie Jackson. The only trouble was that Jackson got himself up in the air during the foul attempt and made it seem as if he were hit in the act of shooting (a sequence that left the typically unflappable Stevens irate, though more so at the official that called the foul than at Thomas). Jackson made all three shots and made it more daunting for Boston to rally back.