Celtics

5 takeaways as Payton Pritchard helps Celtics outlast Pistons, 113-104

"Earlier in the season, we kind of found ways to lose games. Now, we're finding ways to win."

Payton Pritchard looks to pass in the second half Saturday. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Ten days after the Pistons abruptly halted the Celtics’ nine-game winning streak, Boston got revenge Saturday afternoon with a 113-104 road win.

Jaylen Brown (27 points), Jayson Tatum (26 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists), and Payton Pritchard (19 points, 6 assists) led the way for the Celtics, who have now won two straight, 11 of 12, and 18 of 23.

It was a choppy, physical game that featured 43 fouls and didn’t have much flow from the start, as Detroit once again gave Boston one of the stiffest tests it’s faced in weeks.

The Celtics led, 56-54, at the half, the Pistons took an 82-78 advantage through three, then Boston used a 20-6 run in the fourth quarter – engineered largely by Pritchard – to turn an 88-85 deficit into a 105-94 cushion with 3:52 remaining. The Pistons made one final push, but the Celtics preserved yet another win.

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Here’s a closer look at how the game unfolded:

Payton Pritchard stepped up in a major way.

President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens showed his faith in Pritchard by electing not to trade him. It’s unclear how he’ll fare long-term, but Saturday was a major step in the right direction for the streaky second-year guard.

“My confidence never should waver,” Pritchard told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin. “For me, it’s just staying ready and trying to find little ways to help this team win. That’s my job, so I’m going to keep doing it.”

In 27 minutes – the most he’s played since December – Pritchard shot 8-of-12 from the field, 3-of-5 from 3-point range, and was plus-seven in plus/minus. He scored double digits for the first time since mid-January and looked more like he did the bulk of last year than he has this year.

He hit a key 3 to tie the game at 88, finished inside, found Brown, Al Horford, and Tatum for buckets, then buried another 3 to help the Celtics pull away. When the Pistons made a bit of a run late, Pritchard fed Tatum for a dunk and added a layup of his own for good measure to put the game out of reach.

“We stuck with him,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka told reporters. “He was playing well, guarding well, making shots, and being aggressive.”

Jayson Tatum continued to show his versatility.

Tatum’s playmaking ability has steadily improved this season, and Saturday was the latest example.

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He averaged 3.7 assists in November, 3.8 in December, 4.6 in January, and is up to 4.9 in February after dropping six dimes against Detroit. He forces opposing teams to make a lose-lose decision – either they put one guy on him and he scores, or they double him and he hits the open man.

Tatum found his teammates and didn’t try to do too much. He set the tone early, as the Celtics ended up with 31 assists on 42 made baskets.

They made Cade Cunningham work on defense.

Tatum was one of many Celtics to attack No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham off the dribble, and when help came, Tatum and Co. made the right read more often than not.

Cunningham was efficient on offense (11-of-18 for 25 points), but the Celtics made him work on the other end. With Tatum, Brown, and Marcus Smart all in attack mode, the Celtics eventually wore Cunningham and the Pistons down.

At first it seemed like a coincidence that Cunningham was often guarding the ball, but as the game progressed, it became clear it was purposeful. It’s possible Cunningham will evolve into an elite on-ball defender, but at the moment, he has trouble sticking with speedy players.

It was more than just Cunningham, as the Pistons were often one step behind in the fourth quarter. Detroit went 10-deep, and Boston eight, but the Celtics were still the fresher team in the final minutes.

It was a relatively quiet game for Derrick White.

Derrick White has fit in seamlessly overall, but Saturday wasn’t his best showing. He finished with just 3 points in 20 minutes and turned it over three times.

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White is known for versatility defensively, but in this particular game, the Pistons looked for mismatches and exploited White’s lack of size. It didn’t ultimately cost the Celtics in this game, but it’s something to monitor going forward.

They’re finding ways to win.

With the win, the Celtics are now 36-26 – a half-game back of the Cavaliers, 1.5 games out of third, and just four games behind the Heat and Bulls for first place.

They’re outscoring opponents by 5.7 points per game on the season, which is by far the best margin in the East, and are one of the hottest teams in basketball.

Boston has now won seven straight road games by an average margin of 23.8 points. This one was a bit tighter, and it required a fourth-quarter run, but the Celtics kept momentum on their side heading into a matchup with the Pacers on Sunday at 5 p.m.

Regardless of the caliber of the opponent, Saturday was yet another indicator of how far this team has come.

“Earlier in the season, we kind of found ways to lose games,” Brown said. “Now, we’re finding ways to win.”

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