The Boston Celtics travel to the Motor City take on the Detroit Pistons in what is a must-win for the boys in green.
After winning six straight games and re-instilling a sense of hope and certainty into their organization, the Celtics have dropped two in a row, one of which came at home against a New Orleans Hornets team without Eric Gordon.
Does that mean it's time to panic?
Absolutely not. That said, Boston has been toeing the lines of obscurity all season, so wailing on the panic button wouldn't be too far off if it falls to Detroit. And let's not kid ourselves—falling to the Pistons is a real possibility.
Prior to losing to the New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, Detroit had won five of six and proved to be a streaky team on both ends of the floor. Given that Boston has proven to be equally as streaky, but in a bad way, the potential for an upset is very real.
Can the Celtics mitigate their ever-growing list of inconsistencies and assert their dominance over an inferior team? Or will the Pistons serve as a vessel that merely perpetuates Boston's misery?
Time: Sunday, January 20, 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBA League Pass
Records: Boston Celtics (20-19) vs.Detroit Pistons (14-25)
Betting Line: Celtics -2
Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Lakers: Steve Blake (abdomen), out
Key Storyline: What in God's Name Is Going on with the Celtics?
Somebody pinch Danny Ainge and company, because they've got to be dreaming. Or rather, having a nightmare.
This was supposed to be a roster that was going to contend, a convocation that was supposed to be better than the one that pushed the Miami Heat to the brink only last year.
Instead, Boston finds themselves latching onto (albeit comfortably) the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
So is everyone else. Every time the Celtics have show some life, like their most recent winning streak, it proves to be almost a mirage.
Guys like Jason Terry and Courtney Lee were supposed to inject offensive life into an otherwise docile-like scoring team, yet Boston's offense is ranked 25th in points scored per 100 possessions. Its defense is once again in the top 10, but it hasn't been enough to combat potent offenses like that of the Los Angeles Clippers or Golden State Warriors.
In the midst of a topsy-turvy season, the Celtics must be, at the very least, winning the games they're supposed to—one of those games is against the Pistons.
If they wish to silence the increasing number of critics, making a statement in Detroit would be a good start.
Key Matchup: Kevin Garnett, PF, Celtics vs. Greg Monroe, C, Pistons
Boston has been lost defensively without Kevin Garnett.
Though Garnett is a ferociously deft defender, he's not as bulky as most opposing centers. He's quick, which will give him a puncher's chance when attempting to guard Greg Monroe's otherworldly footwork, but the big man can also bully-ball his way to the basket, a method of attack Garnett has a tough time defending.
Monroe also presents a difficult matchup for Garnett because he is the rebounder Garnett used to be.
He uses his massive frame and superior length to battle for boards on both ends of the floor, and considering that the Celtics are dead last in rebounds per game (38.8), this presents more than a bit of an issue.
That said, Monroe doesn't have the range Garnett has. He'll be tasked with stepping out and defending Garnett on the perimeter, which isn't one of his strong suits.
If Garnett can even go point-for-point with the rising young tower, the Celtics stand to run away with this game.
Jeff Green, PF, Boston Celtics
Boston's bench is ranked 18th in points totaled a night (31.3) and is going up against a Detroit team that ranks ninth. Thus, the Celtics are going to need a scorer of their own off the pine.
And who better than Jeff Green, the $36 million man?
Green has underperformed for the most part this season. He's averaging just 9.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game and posting a paltry PER of 11.8. That said, he's no stranger to lighting up the stat lines.
The power forward's ability to stretch defenses with his shooting yet compress them with his dribble penetration can be of great substance when he stays aggressive and, you know, knocks down open shots.
Should he be able to come off the bench and provide an offensive spark, the Celtics will have no problem putting the Pistons out of commission early on.
Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons
The Celtics lack size. They're nearly void of it, in fact.
Enter Andre Drummond.
Detroit's rookie is quietly having an amazing rookie season. He's averaging a quaint 7.2 points and 7.3 rebounds in under 20 minutes a game, leads the team in blocks (1.6) and is posting a gaudy PER of 22.4.
Drummond is going to prove to be a nuisance on the glass for a rebounding-challenged Boston team. His ability to swat shots away at the rim coupled with is raw athleticism on offense is going to make him tough to defend as well.
Though Monroe stands to be the most important player on the Pistons (as per usual), a dominant performance by Drummond could be what keeps Detroit afloat in this one.
Boston is hungry. I mean, how could it not be?
We saw the Celtics toss aside six teams in stride not long ago, four of which were playoff hopefuls. After falling to an underwhelming Hornets team and losing a heart-breaker against the Chicago Bulls, Doc Rivers' crew is going to come out with a vengeance.
Detroit is, for the most part, a young and inexperienced squad. Though a similar faction in New Orleans downed the Celtics in Boston, don't expect a similar outcome here.
The Pistons allow just 96.3 points per game (10th), but they're scoring just 94.8 points per game (23rd), which suggests the Celtics' defense should be able to keep them at bay.
Also, Rajon Rondo is due for a big game, and against an inconsistent backcourt core, he should have no problem putting up yet another double-double. I'd actually put him on triple-double alert in this one.
Toss in the fact that the Celtics are going to want to exact revenge upon an inferior opponent who beat them by 20 the first time around, and you have a Boston squad motivated beyond reason.
Simply put, the Celtics need a win. And though they're just 7-11 away from home, that much-needed win is going to come against the Pistons.
Celtics 94, Pistons 85
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 19, 2013.