By Kevin Henkin
Fresh legs? Congratulations. Those and fifty cents got the Detroit Pistons a cup of coffee and a sound defeat at the hands of the Boston Celtics, with a final score of 88-79. From all appearances, the Pistons might have benefited from that cup of coffee, considering their flat play throughout the game.
In recent days, the point had been made by many that Detroit’s three fewer games in the playoffs and their more prudent resting of their aged veterans would likely pay dividends in this series over the weary Celtics. Although the observation is sound, it was the Celtics who showed more energy and crispness in their play during the first game of this epic series. This was especially true in the third quarter, when Boston pulled away from their 1 point halftime lead to build it to 12 by the end of the frame. After that, Detroit was only able to match baskets for the rest of the game, never drawing closer than 6 and never putting in a real scare into Boston before finally submitting.
The Celtics’ offense stagnated at times throughout the contest but the contributions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce proved to be enough as the two stars combined for 48 of their team’s 88 points. Rajon Rondo also played well, tallying five steals and 7 assists while pushing the ball with aggression and creativity. He also contributed 11 points on 5-9 shooting. Five of those points proved to be daggers down the stretch. They came in the final two minutes of the fourth, with Rondo knocking down an open mid-range jumper and then a three, finally taking advantage of Detroit’s repeated dares to shoot it from downtown.
On the other end, only Tayshaun Price and Antonio McDyess played well on the offensive end, combining for 30 points on 12-26 shooting. Chauncey Billups looked to still be in recovery mode from his injury. For the game, the Pistons shot a lackluster 42.4% from the field against Boston’s strong defensive effort and were only able to keep the game close by getting to the free throw line with frequency (they had the Celtics in the penalty with 7:23 to go in the second quarter and capitalized on the situation).
Of note, the Celtics made a concerted effort early to get Ray Allen’s game going, calling several plays for their shooting guard in the opening minutes. The Pistons also helped out in a way by keeping single coverage on Allen, who had previously faced constant traps from Cleveland whenever the ball came his way. Alas, Allen’s jump shot remained hideously off, finishing with 9 points on 3-10 shooting. Again, Allen missed several open jumpers, including an airball on a three point attempt, and his three field goals consisted of the following: a layup, a dunk on a breakaway and credit for a basket on a goaltending call against Detroit. Looks like it’s back to the drawing board of taking 400 shots before the game and blaming his point guard for not getting him better looks.
The officiating of the game was curious. In the first quarter, I was beginning to wonder if the men in stripes had left their whistles in the locker room. But then Joey Crawford, ever the story, made his presence known by calling a couple of truly ticky-tack fouls on Kevin Garnett, immediately followed up by at least one blatant makeup call on the other end. Over the remainder of the game, Crawford blew a few more calls here and there and then pulled the requisite make-up against Detroit. This wasn’t a factor in the game, mind you, just a general annoyance to those of watching.
Also of note to those of us obsessed with such things, Doc Rivers kept his rotation tight at nine players, sticking with James Posey, Eddie House and P.J. Brown as his main go-to reserves. Offensively, the bench didn’t contribute much but they held serve sufficiently on the other end. When House entered the game at point guard, Flip Saunders immediately countered by bringing in Lindsey Hunter to provide harassing pressure on House’s weak handle. Boston responded by shifting the ball-handling duties to Pierce and Posey.
In the end, it was more business as usual for the Celtics in this second season. Feed off the energy of the home crowd? Check. Play stifling defense? Check. Endure another sub-par Ray Allen performance? Check. Win at home? Check. So predictable. Sort of like a Dan Shaughnessy column, except the games are enjoyable and actually involve a steady effort.