The Boston Celtics entered the season with their usual title aspirations, and they're finally starting to look like a team that can contend for the Eastern Conference championship.
Boston has won three straight games and five of its last six to move three games above .500. The Celtics will try to keep the momentum going during a three-game road trip, which begins in Detroit on Friday night.
The Celtics have recorded four double-digit victories since Jan. 23, but their latest triumph was much more difficult. They led Charlotte by 11 points with less than five minutes remaining, but the Hornets rallied to tie it with a minute to go. Boston then scored the last six points to emerge with a 113-107 victory.
"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 buckle down on defense and make the right plays," coach Ime Udoka said. "That's a sign of growth."
A pair of free throws by Jayson Tatum gave Boston the lead for keeps. Marcus Smart also made two free throws after Robert Williams blocked P.J. Washington's 3-point attempt. Williams added the exclamation point with a dunk.
"A lot of things we did early in the year that were hurting us we cut down on," Smart said. "The things that were helping us earlier in the year, we're starting to do more of, and it's definitely showing itself, not just to the fans, to the teams we play, but to ourselves. Everybody'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 shot 6-for-16 while scoring 19 points. Brown was held to 15 and committed seven turnovers.
"That's what it's going to take some nights," Udoka said. "It's not always going to be your night scoring when they're trying to stop you. But trust your teammates, make the right play."
The Pistons will be playing the second game of 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 candidate, missed the game due to a right hip pointer. He's questionable to play against the Celtics.
Coach Dwane Casey lamented the team's ballhandling and decision-making against the Timberwolves. Minnesota scored 21 points off 16 Detroit turnovers.
"That's way too many against a team like that," he said. "Some of the decisions we were making were mind-boggling. You just can't try to squeeze in between two people or squeeze the ball in passing lanes and those types of things. I thought that broke our back."
The Pistons wasted a big game from 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 reeled off 11 unanswered points and took control.
"We did a good job in stretches, but not enough," Casey said.
--Field Level Media
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