Horford is particularly more important against a player like Andre Drummond. Drummond could have a huge day on the boards, but having Horford there completely changes how the Pistons can attack them. The Celtics can trust their defense a lot more now, and could have a difficult time if he forces things in the paint.
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With Jae Crowder there to matchup on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Pistons will have a difficult time finding a favourable matchup against the Celtics. Without Reggie Jackson both Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart will be incredibly disruptive. The Celtics have been leaning a lot more on defense since Crowder and Horford returned, and they will continue to do that in this one.
The Celtics have not done a great job of generating turnovers this season, and the Pistons have the fewest turnovers per game in the league. The Celtics will be aggressive and if they do not get those turnovers it could backfire on them. The Celtics often get into foul trouble, and that is exactly how the Pistons would like to muck up the game.
The Pistons rank 10th allowing opponents to shoot just 34.3 percent from three point range, and the Celtics could get trapped taking too many three pointers. The Pistons have strengths that they can use on the Celtics, but it will be difficult them to sustain anything consistent on offense, and if Horford takes advantage of Drummond things will open up for Thomas and he should be able to establish a great rhythm.
Isaiah Thomas should be able to exploit a matchup with Ish Smith and both Bradley and Smart could share time on Tobias Harris or Caldwell-Pope. The Celtics have multiple ways of defending the Pistons, and they may not need that much on offense to win the game.
Offensive boards will always be a big concern. The best way for Drummond to have a great impact on the game is generating those second chance opportunities. The Celtics are improved in that area, but still have struggled, even at full strength.
If the Celtics struggle to shoot the ball they will continue to rely on their aggressiveness. Thomas has been the most aggressive player in the league driving to the rim and he has made a living at the free throw line this year. With Horford and Kelly Olynyk stretching the floor, Thomas, Smart and Terry Rozier will all have a great opportunity to be aggressive in the paint, and they need to make sure they make up for any shooting issues.
Nov 19, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives to the basket as Detroit Pistons guard Ish Smith (14) defends second half at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Drummond has done a phenomenal job protecting the paint this year and they will need to lean on their shooting versatility with their bigs to give them easier looks. The Celtics will always look to take a lot of three point shots, but they still cannot rely on that to win them games yet. Being successful in the paint should give the Celtics the offense they need, as long as their defense plays well.
The Celtics still have not played well on both ends, but they have been able to handle sub .500 teams at full strength. The Pistons play in a way that can make it incredibly difficult on the Celtics, but they have the ball movement to get the open looks they need and they have been able to lean on their defense.
The Celtics should continue to improve as they finally get comfortable, and this will be a great test to determine how they can handle themselves against a team that can make them uncomfortable. The Pistons have won three of their last four, including quality wins against the Hornets and Clippers. They are coming in hot and will be confident in their ability to dictate the terms of the game, and that is how the Celtics will run into problems.
The Celtics will look to play small and fast and with their defensive versatility they will be in a great position to sustain those lineups, which is the only way to get all their strongest defenders on the court at once.
The Celtics need to keep pace with the Raptors, and the Pistons are looking to finally get to .500 and secure a playoff spot. These teams are both looking to be relevant in the East and this is an important game in establishing that success in the East.
The Celtics will be grateful to get Horford back just in time for this matchup, but after they handled Whiteside without him last game, they can feel a bit better about taking down the Pistons tonight.