Celtics visit slumping Pistons

Kyrie Irving will remove his protective face mask on Sunday. His opponent will try to shed something even more cumbersome: the burden of a five-game losing streak.

The slumping Detroit Pistons will host Irving and the Boston Celtics on Sunday afternoon. The Pistons were 14-6, including a victory on the Celtics’ home floor on Nov. 27, prior to the skid.

Boston’s star point guard has worn a mask on the court since suffering a facial fracture on Nov. 10. The injury has healed and Irving has been cleared to play without it.

“I hope not to see it again,” Irving said.

Irving had a pretty good look at a potential tying 3-pointer on the Celtics’ final possession Friday. His corner attempt rimmed out as Boston lost to San Antonio 105-102.

“Thought it was cash money,” Irving said. “Thought it was going to hit the bottom of the net. Obviously I didn’t put enough on it.”

Irving’s 36-point performance went to waste in the process. The team’s third-leading scorer, forward Al Horford, was held to two points.

The Celtics (22-5) saw their four-game winning streak snapped.

“Multiple times throughout the game they were in a rhythm scoring and we just couldn’t break it,” coach Brad Stevens said. “That was the difference in the game.”

Detroit’s last four losses have been decided by five points or less. Shooting guard Avery Bradley, a former Celtic, points the finger at the team’s inability to get stops during key stretches.

“Our defense at times isn’t good,” he said. “We exchange baskets with teams and we can’t be a team like that.”

The Pistons (14-11) were outscored 31-17 in the third quarter of their 102-98 home loss to Golden State on Friday. They had a chance to tie it in the closing seconds but point guard Reggie Jackson missed an off-balance shot.

“He drove it hard and a lot of people came to the ball and we had two guys open weakside,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “That’s what I saw. But it’s a lot easier to sit and watch on tape than when you’re driving to the basket.”

Van Gundy is exasperated with the team’s decision-making, which led to Milwaukee and Golden State blocking a combined 31 shots over the last two games.

“The ones where guys are blocking 3s, guys flying at you, you’ve got to be able to shot fake,” he said. “You go to the basket, help is coming, you’ve got to be able to find open people. We’ve just got to do a lot better job of making those plays.”

The Pistons had no trouble shredding Boston’s defense in the first meeting. Forward Tobias Harris scored 31 points and center Andre Drummond had 26 points, 22 rebounds, six assists and four steals in their 118-108 victory. Irving was held to 18 points while shooting 6-for-16 from the field and committing six turnovers.

“They’re well-coached, they run good stuff, I love what they’re doing,” Stevens said after that loss. “Drummond has greatly improved as now a playmaker out of the high post, which is a big difference from what he’s done in the past. Tobias Harris’ improvement has been tremendous, and obviously they’ve got really good guards. So, they’re really good.”