Boston Beatdown

McGrady’s hand steers Pistons to convincing win over Celts

TEAM COLORS

The story of the game in Pistons red, white and blue

– Ben Gordon scored the first 10 points for the Pistons, hitting 4 of 5 including a couple from the 3-point arc, but before the half was over an even more impressive shooting outburst helped stake them to an eight-point halftime lead. Austin Daye hit his first five shots, two from the arc, before missing another triple, scoring 12 in nine first-half minutes. Then Charlie Villanueva carried the third quarter with 11 points. But the glue to it all was Tracy McGrady, who scored 11 of his 21 in the fourth quarter and ran the offense superbly all night in place of Rodney Stuckey, who missed the game with the flu.

BLUE COLLAR – When an admittedly overhyped Charlie Villanueva picked up two fouls before the game was three minutes old and had to come out, John Kuester waved Chris Wilcox into the game. Wilcox, the Pistons’ most athletic big man, showed what he has to offer with 10 points, eight boards, three steals and a big blocked shot on Glen Davis that helped slow Boston’s momentum when the Celtics, behind Paul Pierce, tried to make a push early in the fourth quarter. Wilcox played 27 minutes and continued his recent strong play that appears to have given him an edge over Jason Maxiell for the No. 4 spot in the frontcourt rotation – or perhaps even ahead of Greg Monroe, who played nine minutes in the win over Boston and contributed a big steal on the first possession of the fourth quarter.

RED FLAG – The only nagging doubt the Pistons would carry out of the game is how all the pieces will fit when Rodney Stuckey returns. The offense functioned so well under Tracy McGrady’s direction, is it conceivable that John Kuester will shift more and more of the burden of running the offense to McGrady? If so, where does that leave Stuckey? And what will the ripple effect be on Ben Gordon and Rip Hamilton?

The Pistons will ring in 2011 in Phoenix, so they rang out 2010 with a night that harkened the glory of their past, underscored the promise of their future and suggested a present not nearly as bleak as the 10-21 record they dragged like an anchor into the game.

Now it’s just a matter of melding together all the good revealed in their 104-92 win over Boston, which came to The Palace with a 24-5 record, and weeding out the inconsistencies that have plagued them since opening night.

“We played like a team tonight more than I’ve ever seen this year,” John Kuester was moved to say. “This was a great win for us.”

The sold-out Palace hummed like the good ol’ days as the Pistons put on a show that recalled their blueprint for success throughout the decade now past, with different players shouldering the scoring burden for long stretches and Tracy McGrady brilliantly orchestrating.

The Pistons passed the offensive baton all night in perhaps their best wire-to-wire performance of the season, one that came with both teams missing their point guards, Rajon Rondo (ankle) for the Celtics and Rodney Stuckey (flu) for the Pistons.

Into Stuckey’s void stepped Tracy McGrady, and how much the 55.7 percent shooting night, the 104 points and the offense that featured no one taking more than 14 shots but six players taking at least seven apiece was the result of McGrady’s superb direction will be the question that Kuester must resolve.

To be sure, McGrady was brilliant with 21 points on 7 of 11 shooting to go with eight assists, four rebounds and just two turnovers though the ball was in his hands the majority of his 30-plus minutes.

“He kept a pace – the pace of the game was great for our team,” Kuester said. “Sometimes you forget how good he is. He was so unselfish. That’s the thing that impressed me so much – how he moves the basketball and does the little things. It speaks volumes for him.”

Ben Gordon, relishing his matchup advantage over diminutive Nate Robinson, got the Pistons going early, scoring their first 10 points in a little more than five minutes. The offense bogged down when McGrady went to the bench with three minutes left in the quarter – the Pistons scored on only two of their next eight possessions – but Austin Daye, playing only because Stuckey was unavailable and McGrady’s minutes came at the point, gave them a huge boost in the second quarter.

Daye scored 12 points, making his first five shots, and when Kuester went to wave Tayshaun Prince (18 points, four boards) back into the game with about four minutes left in the quarter, Prince called him off until Daye finally missed one.

Then Charlie Villanueva, after a scoreless first half that saw him hit with two quick fouls for jostling with Kevin Garnett in their anticipated first meeting since their November exchange over trash talking, carried the Pistons with 11 third-quarter points as they maintained a lead of anywhere from six to 16 points.

And McGrady tied it all up in a neat little bow by scoring 11 in the fourth, making four of his five shots.

“He did a great job,” Villanueva said. “I’ve been saying this for a while: It seems like every game, he keeps getting better and better. He’s a very unselfish player. He got us involved and it was just a great win.”

“He’s had a big impact,” Daye echoed. “He’s a knowledgeable guy at that position. He’s a playmaker. He’s not just a star player, he’s a playmaker. He can pass, he can score. It’s a great thing for the team.”

The Pistons head west for their most challenging trip of the season with stops in Phoenix and Utah before winding it up with the Los Angeles Lakers. As daunting as it appears, a wire-to-wire whipping of Boston reinforces for them the notion they can compete, at a minimum, with anyone when they play to their strengths.

“When we’re playing hard,” Kuester said, “we can compete with anybody. But when our energy is low, it takes us to a different level, downward.”

Beyond the energy comes the execution, and with McGrady pulling the strings, for one night at least the execution was as close to the blueprint as Kuester’s seen.

“We have so many offensive weapons on this team,” Villanueva said. “Sometimes, we’re going to need something from each and every guy. Today was an example of that, where everyone contributed.”