The Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons own the best records in the Eastern Conference. One look at the league's defensive statistics indicates how that's happened.
Boston seeks its first 10-game winning streak since the days of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish on Wednesday night when the Pistons visit TD Banknorth Garden.
An offseason overhaul that brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the Celtics figured to make them one of the league's best offensive teams. While those additions have certainly improved the offense, it may actually be Boston's defense that has been the biggest factor in its league-best 20-2 start.
The Celtics lead the NBA in scoring defense (86.5 ppg), as well as opponents' field goal percentage (41.3), 3-point percentage (30.5) and assists per game (17.2).
"Our philosophy is that defense is going to win games for us," said Garnett, who has a team-high 34 blocks and is one off the team lead with 36 steals. "We're trying to have the defense fuel the offense, and it's been working."
This game is Garnett's first as an Eastern Conference rival of Pistons coach Flip Saunders. Much of Garnett's first 10 seasons were spent being coached by Saunders in Minnesota.
"There's no question the success they're having is because of his unselfishness and how he plays," Saunders told the Pistons' official Web site. "Now, when people talk about MVP again, they're talking about him. He's going to go down as one of the greatest power forwards of all-time."
The only teams ever to have a better record through 22 games than this Boston club were the 1969 New York Knicks and the 1993 Houston Rockets, who both opened 21-1.
The Celtics are the only team with a better record in the East than Detroit (17-7), which has used stifling defense to win four straight Central Division titles and six of the last seven. The Pistons are again a very good defensive team, ranking second in the NBA in scoring defense (91.2) and margin of victory (8.5), trailing Boston in both categories.
Another stellar defensive effort on Sunday helped the Celtics to their ninth straight win, 90-77 at Toronto.
Paul Pierce scored 18 points, Garnett had 16 and Boston limited the Raptors to a season low in points, field goals made (16) and assists (16).
Boston has won nine in a row for the first time since March 16-31, 1993. The Celtics haven't won 10 straight since a 14-game run from March 11-April 4, 1986, two months before Bird, McHale and Parish led the team to its second NBA title in three seasons.
"When you get 12 guys committed and on the same page, night in and night out, anything is possible," Pierce said. "That's what we have right now."
The last two games have proven the Celtics can win even when their three stars are not all available. Although Allen missed the past two games with a sore right ankle, Boston posted easy wins over Milwaukee and Toronto.
Allen, second on the team with 19.2 points per game, is expected to play Wednesday,
Starting point guard Rajon Rondo has stepped up during Allen's absence, totaling 31 points and 12 assists over the last two games.
"He's been tremendous," Pierce said. "It seems like he's getting better each and every game."
Getting Allen back should give the Celtics a better chance at ending an eight-game losing streak to the Pistons (17-7), who have won 13 of the last 14 meetings. The only loss in that span came in double overtime, 115-113 at Boston on March 11, 2005.
This is the first meeting of the season between the teams.
Detroit enters the game having won nine of 11 overall, holding opponents to 87.7 points in that span.
Tayshaun Prince scored 23 points and Antonio McDyess had 14 and 11 rebounds as the Pistons never trailed in a 109-87 victory over Golden State on Sunday.
Copyright 2007 by STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited