Game Preview: Pistons at Celtics

Make your picks now in Celtics 3-Point Play

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (0-3) and Detroit Pistons (0-2) are two of the eight NBA teams still vying for their first victory of the season. They’ll both try to grab that win when they meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the TD Garden.

Tonight’s contest will mark the return of meaningful basketball to the Garden, one hasn’t been played since the Celtics were knocked out of the 2010-11 playoffs on May 11.

Since that date the Celtics have gone 0-3 in regular season games, and none of them have been pretty losses. Boston fell behind by large deficits in its first two games, against New York and Miami, and stormed back late to make futile comeback attempts. The team then traveled Wednesday night to New Orleans and was dominated by the Hornets for nearly the entirety of a 97-78 loss.

All of those losses came on a three-game road trip to begin the season. Boston also was shorthanded during that trip without several key players. That’s certainly not the type of start any coach dreams up, and it left the Celtics desperate to return to Boston.

That finally happens tonight, as the C’s will play in the building where they went 33-8 last season. On the other hand, their opponent, the Pistons, struggled mightily on the road last year and won only nine of 41 games away from home.

Detroit has split its first two games of the season on the road and at home, but both resulted in blowout losses. On Monday the Pistons fell on the road to Indiana by a score of 91-79. Two nights later they returned to the Palace of Auburn Hills and were blown out by 16 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Detroit has averaged only 84.0 PPG in those first two contests of the season, leaving them ranked 27th overall in the league in that category. That’s not good news for a team that is heading to the Garden tonight to take on a Celtics squad that scored at least 104 points in each of its first two games of the season.

Boston’s offense did drop off Wednesday night against the Hornets, but that was expected in the second night of a difficult back-to-back and third game in four nights. Not only are the Celtics coming off of a day of rest, they also might get a boost by the return of their top scorer and captain.

Paul Pierce has been sidelined with a bruised heel essentially since the season began three weeks ago. He has practiced only once, but has been inching closer to a return over the past week.

Before the Celtics took on the Heat Tuesday night in Miami, Doc Rivers responded to a question about Pierce’s return by saying, “maybe the home opener,” which is tonight. For what it’s worth, Pierce also tweeted Thursday night that he is, “close very very close.”

If Pierce does return tonight it will be an enormous boost to the Celtics in their home opener. He is this team’s MVP and brings a lot to the table at both ends of the court.

Looking at his possible return from the other side of the table, the Pistons cannot be excited about it. Detroit has two lanky small forwards on its roster whom Pierce lit up for an average of 24.5 PPG over four games last season.

That type of scoring can’t be expected out of the captain if he returns tonight, but if he does participate in this game it will go a long way in helping his team grab its first win of the season.

Rebounding

Rebounding will continue to be an area that must be addressed by the Celtics until they begin to approach 40.0 RPG. They currently average just 35.3 RPG, which is tied with Dallas for 27th in the league. Luckily for Boston, the Pistons are even worse in that department. Detroit’s paltry average of 33.0 RPG ranks 29th in the league.

Neither team has a single player averaging more than 7.0 RPG. Boston’s top rebounders are Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, who both average 6.7 boards per game. Greg Monroe’s 7.0 RPG leads the Pistons.

The difference between these two teams is that Detroit can’t protect the glass, while Boston can, according to the numbers. The Pistons allow 46.5 RPG to its opponents, which is the fourth-most in the league. The Celtics allow only 39.0 rebounds to its opponents, which ranks seventh in the league.

Boston clearly has the advantage in the paint tonight, and if it capitalizes on that by dominating the rebounding department, it should land its first win of the season.

Defensive Wake Up

Boston hasn’t been itself on the defensive end this season. That fact is clear when you look at the stats and see that opponents are averaging 106.0 PPG against them. That’s unacceptable for a team that prides itself on dominating the defensive end of the court.

That struggling defense might get a well-needed wakeup call tonight. The Pistons are not a very talented offensive team and that has shown thus far in the season. As noted earlier, they haven’t scored more than 90 points in a game yet. In addition, they haven’t shared the ball well enough to rack up more than 17 assists in a single game.

Those numbers are ugly, and the Celtics can take advantage of them. Boston should be able to put an umbrella over the basket tonight and hold the Pistons to a very low scoring game.

The Garden Crowd

It’s not easy beginning the season on a three-game road trip, particularly after a five-month lockout and a shortened preseason. This Celtics team has been yearning for a home game, and it will finally get one tonight.

Boston’s crowd has delivered consistent energy throughout this current Big Three era, and that will need to continue tonight. The Celtics feed off of the Garden crowd. Just take a look at Kevin Garnett before the opening tip.

Will the crowd be as ecstatic as it normally is for Opening Night, seeing as the Celtics have floundered to an 0-3 start? That remains to be seen, but the hope is that the answer will be yes. The Celtics need to that home crowd energy in the building tonight, something they haven’t been able to taste at all yet this season.