It would be safe to say that the Boston Celtics have been ravaged by injury this season, and also that they have struggled mightily as a result.
But what you can not say is that they’ve given up – and as the injuries keep piling up, so does their resolve despite what seems like a inevitably fruitless venture, and their struggle is blind to record and seeding, for their struggle is equal for each foe…
…like the Detroit Pistons, who came into TD Garden on Wednesday night touting a two game winning streak over Boston this season, accounting for two of their measly 25 wins – but Jeff Green scored 34 points, including a clutch dagger trey with 45 seconds remaining to help the Celtics break a two game losing streak overall with a 98-93 win over the Pistons.
Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass scored 17 a piece, Avery Bradley had 11 and Jason Terry dropped in 10 off the bench as the Celtics clinched a playoff berth with the win coupled with Philadelphia’s loss to Charlotte.
Greg Monroe was the big man in the paint for the Pistons, scoring 24 points, mostly on put backs after swiping one of his 9 offensive boards. Rodney Stuckey scored 22 and Jonas Jerebko poured in 19 off the bench, but Detroit lost to the Celtics for the first time this season despite winning the rebounding advantage by 52-39, including pulling down a staggering 25 offensive boards.
The rebounding disparity shouldn’t be all that shocking considering the size advantage that Detroit enjoyed over the perpetually small Celtics, but one of their bigs, 6′ 11″ forward Charlie Villanueva launched brick after brick, hitting on only two of 17 shots and denying the Pistons a chance to seize the lead several times, the last one a missed trey with 1:03 remaining in the game.
With an 18 point lead at the halfway point of the 3rd quarter the Celtics seemed to be on cruise control, and then ran out of gas, allowing the Pistons to score 14 straight points to get the lead down to four barely into the 4th.
The teams went back and forth, Boston keeping a single digit lead throughout until the Celtics hit another cold spell, allowing the Pistons to close to within two with less than two minutes left, but Villanueva’s brick on the trey attempt was followed by Green’s clutch bomb to build the lead back to five with a minute left, then Terry closed things out by hitting a pair of free throws.
And now with a playoff berth earned – and it was earned – The Celtics have to concentrate on holding onto the 7th seed in the conference. Eighth seed Milwaukee is just 2 1/2 games behind Boston with eight games to play.
The difference? The seventh seed gets a first round matchup with the New York Knicks. The Eighth gets the defending champion Miami Heat. So it’s the difference between a decent chance of advancing vs. no chance at all.
And Milwaukee’s road to the seed is treacherous indeed, playing 6 of their final eight on the road, getting the Heat, Magic, Hawks and Knicks and ending their season at Oklahoma City.
The Celtics have a bit of fortune on their side, as they get home cooking for the next week, hosting the pesky Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night, welcoming the Washington Wizards on Sunday before tipping off against the Nets on Wednesday. After the four game home stand Boston gets 3 of their final four regular season games on the road against the likes of Miami, Orlando and Toronto.
The Celtics have had to struggle for every win this season, always playing uphill against the odds, but have somehow managed to carve their playoff niche. Their fans hope that their struggles have also built some character and confidence to help them make a run in the playoffs.