April 05, 2014

The Boston Celtics don't have a star among a group Brad Stevens is running 10 deep, but they've often had the balance to overcome a lack of an individual difference maker.

Having one player explode offensively didn't do much good recently against the Detroit Pistons, anyway.

After three straight losses in which their depth didn't exactly shine, the Celtics have gotten contributions from up and down the roster heading into what they hope will be a third consecutive victory Saturday night in Detroit.

There's no All-Star on the roster, but the Celtics hit the 30-game mark in Stevens' third season with some impressive achievements. Only Cleveland (plus-6.3) has a better points per game differential in the Eastern Conference than Boston's plus-4.2, and the Celtics' average margin of victory (15.1) is even higher than Golden State's (14.5).

Following a three-game skid that featured a 32.2 percent shooting effort against the Cavaliers and then a pair of huge individual performances from Isaiah Thomas but little else, Boston got help from everywhere in wins over Minnesota and Charlotte.

Kelly Olynyk led six players in double figures with 19 points in Monday's 113-99 victory over the Timberwolves, then had 20 to pace four starters with at least 18 in Wednesday's 102-89 road win against the Hornets.

"We're tough to guard," Olynyk said. "You can't key in on one person. That's how we have to play to win."

Olynyk's performances tend to be telling with his averages of 12.5 points in victories and 6.2 in losses. Boston (16-13) has had at least five players score in double figures in 12 of its wins.

"Obviously, when we've played like that, we've usually won," Stevens said. "I thought our starters really played well. I thought a lot of our guys on the bench did a really good job."

Olynyk didn't score in 16 minutes off the bench Dec. 16 at Detroit, when Thomas matched a career high with 38 points in Boston's 119-116 loss. Eight Celtics have scored at least 27 points in a game this season, yet six of those came in losing efforts.

The Pistons (17-13) have had the same number of individual 27-point performances, but they've won seven of them. One came against Boston last week when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope poured in a career-high 31.

The victory over the Celtics kicked off a three-game winning streak in which Detroit won by a total of seven points, the same margin Stan Van Gundy's team lost by Wednesday in Atlanta. That 107-100 defeat didn't feel quite that close, though, as the Pistons trailed by as many as 22 in the third.

Even though Detroit has won five of seven, Van Gundy sees a pair of recurring problems. One is on defense, where the Pistons have allowed 105.8 points per 100 possessions in their last four games after yielding just 99.2 in their first 26.

"We're just not focused on the defensive end at all. It's going to catch up to us," Van Gundy said. "But they're not listening right now. They're trying to do it in other ways. Until we get back to defending, we're going to struggle."

Being on pace to be the worst free-throw shooting team since the 1960s is the other issue. Much of that falls on Andre Drummond, whom the Hawks sent to the line 18 times Wednesday. Drummond's seven makes actually boosted his season percentage to 37.9.

"He's going to have to shoot the ball better at the line in order to stay in the game," Van Gundy said. "He can't continue to shoot under 50 percent. He just can't."

Drummond has averaged 20 points and 17.3 rebounds despite going 11 for 37 from the line in his last six against Boston.

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