Rising Celtics start road trip against Pistons

The Boston Celtics started the season with their usual title aspirations and they are finally starting to look like a team that can compete for the Eastern Conference championship.

Boston has won three consecutive games and five of the last six to put three games above .500. The Celtics will try to keep up the momentum on a three-game road trip that begins Friday night in Detroit.

The Celtics have had four double-digit wins since January 23, but their last win was much more difficult. They led Charlotte by 11 points with less than five minutes to go, but the Hornets rallied to equalize with one minute to go. Boston then scored the last six points to come forward with a 113-107 win.

“We’ve been in enough close games to where we’ve seen it go the other way, so we feel like we’ve hit a stretch where we get the shots we want, get the right looks and then cling to the defense and making the right moves,” said coach Ime Udoka. “That’s a sign of growth.”

A pair of free throws from Jayson Tatum gave Boston the lead. Marcus Smart also made two free throws after Robert Williams blocked PJ Washington’s 3-point attempt. Williams added the exclamation point with a dunk.

“A lot of things that we did early in the year that hurt us, we reduced,” said Smart. “The things that helped us earlier this year, we’re starting to do more of it, and it’s definitely showing itself, not just to the fans, the teams we play, but also to ourselves. Everyone’s confidence is going up.”

Another sign of growth is that the Celtics survived on a night when neither Tatum nor Jaylen Brown reached the 20-point mark. Tatum was 6-for-16 and scored 19 runs. Brown was held to 15 and made seven turnovers.

“That will take a few nights,” Udoka said. “It won’t always be your goal at night if they try to stop you. But trust your teammates, play the right game.”

The Pistons play the second game from a back-to-back. They lost at home to Minnesota 128-117 on Thursday.

Cade Cunningham, the top pick in last year’s draft and a Rookie of the Year contender, missed the game due to a right hip pointer. He is doubtful to play against the Celtics.

Coach Dwane Casey lamented the team’s handling and decision-making against the Timberwolves. Minnesota scored 21 points on 16 Detroit turnovers.

“That’s way too much against a team like that,” he said. “Some of the decisions we made were mind-boggling. You just can’t try to squeeze in between two people or squeeze the ball into passes and stuff like that. I thought that broke our backs.”

The Pistons lost a big game to reserve Frank Jackson, who scored 25 points. Jerami Grant had 20 points in his second game after recovering from thumb surgery.

Detroit led with about four minutes left in the third quarter, but Minnesota took 11 unanswered points and took control.

“We’ve done well in the stretches, but not enough,” Casey said.

–Field level media

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