BOSTON -- The Celtics spent the first half of the season blowing fourth-quarter leads.
Wednesday night, Boston entered the All-Star break on a sour note after doing so once again, coughing up an eight-point lead in the final four minutes and losing 112-111 to the Detroit Pistons to snap the Celtics' nine-game winning streak.
"It definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth before the break," Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said after scoring 31 points and dishing out six assists in the loss. "Definitely a game that you have to find a way to win.
"Detroit, though, give credit to them. They came ready to play. They made some tough baskets down the stretch, Saddiq Bey tough step-back jumper at the buzzer, Jerami Grant turnaround with the game on the line, they came to play. They were the more deserving team tonight."
Boston entered Wednesday night as the NBA's hottest team, winners of nine in a row and 11 of their past 12, outscoring teams by more than 20 points per game on average over that stretch -- including a 48-point rout of the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday night. But the Celtics, playing without starters Robert Williams (calf) and Marcus Smart (ankle) on the second night of a back-to-back, looked sluggish throughout Wednesday's game against the Pistons (13-45).
Still, the Celtics (34-26) were able to surge to a 106-98 lead with 4:24 to go in the fourth quarter after an emphatic dunk by Jayson Tatum and appeared well on their way to a victory, only to promptly allow Detroit to respond with a 10-2 run of its own to once again tie the score.
That set up a frenetic back-and-forth inside the final minute that saw Detroit eventually take the lead for good on a difficult fadeway jumper by Grant, who led Detroit with 24 points, over Tatum with 19 seconds to go.
Brown then missed a shot over top overall pick Cade Cunningham, who had 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and center Isaiah Stewart, only for Detroit to cough up the ball and allow the Celtics to have one final shot to tie the score with 6.9 seconds remaining.
But Tatum, after isolating at the top of the key against Grant, had his jumper go wide, and the Celtics saw themselves head into the All-Star break with a thud as a result.
"They were very resilient all night," Celtics center Al Horford said. "We'd build a lead and they'd come back. We talked about with about eight minutes to go that if we tighten up and build a lead, we thought we were going to be in a good position and we did that. Then, we just couldn't finish it. They hit some very tough shots. They were tough and resilient. You have to give them credit."
Still, the Celtics have plenty to feel good about heading into the break. They've climbed out of the play-in morass at the bottom of the crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture and are within reach of snagging homecourt in the first round of the playoffs. More importantly, the stylistic changes first-year coach Ime Udoka has been preaching all year have begun to take hold in recent weeks, and newly acquired guard Derrick White has seamlessly fit into Boston's rotation.
So while Wednesday's loss was disappointing, it wasn't the thing Udoka and the Celtics would be carrying with them during their week off.
"[It's] bittersweet," Udoka said. "Going to leave a sour taste for sure. Kind of look back and reflect on the things we did well over the streak. Didn't do it tonight. Defensively and even offensively, like I said, it wasn't as crisp as we've been.
"But I did tell them it was congrats on what we've done [after the game]. Obviously, it would be nice to finish it off the right way. Take a rest on your bodies and minds, and think about what we have coming forward. Nine is done. It would've been nice to finish it off the right way, but we still got big things coming up."