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Pistons stay winless as Boston snaps 0-3 start in 11-point win


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

– After failing to crack double figures in points or rebounds in the first two games, Greg Monroe finished one rebound shy of his first double-double of the season and might have had it if the game hadn’t gotten out of hand in the second half and he’d played normal minutes. Still, Monroe finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists in Boston’s 96-85 victory. Monroe kept the Pistons afloat in the first half. He scored 14 points, grabbed four rebounds, added three assists and made 6 of 8 shots. Monroe was assertive, both in establishing post position and in turning to face his defender and attack the paint, getting scoring chances or drawing fouls for himself or dropping off deft passes to teammates to defeat help defense.

BLUE COLLAR – When the Pistons and Pacers were battling for Eastern Conference supremacy six and seven years ago, Jermaine O’Neal was the heart of the Pacers, an elite defensive big man with a potent low-post scoring arsenal. Then a series of leg injuries reduced him to journeyman. But O’Neal says he’s healthier than he’s been in five years and he looked it Friday night, finishing with 19 points, seven boards and two blocked shots. With Shaquille O’Neal retired, Kendrick Perkins gone and Jeff Green out for the year, if the Celtics hope to challenge Miami and Chicago in the East this year, they’ll need O’Neal to play at that level consistently.

RED FLAG – The Pistons probably played their best half of the season – OK, there’d only been five to that point, and the first four weren’t pretty – in Friday’s first half, trailing the aroused Celtics, making their home debut with a 0-3 record and getting Paul Pierce back, by seven. But 46 seconds later, Lawrence Frank was burning a timeout after Ray Allen and Pierce drained triples on Boston’s first two possessions and, suddenly, the lead was almost doubled. Boston wound up shooting 71 percent for the quarter and 52 percent for the game.

There might be a more forbidding set of circumstances facing a team looking for its first win of the season than to play Boston in its home debut and also scrambling to break into the win column after three losses to open its season. But it wouldn’t take long to scan the list.

The Pistons, after playing their best half of basketball and still trailing by seven at halftime, fell behind by 19 midway through the third quarter and fell to 0-3 in a 96-85 loss to the Celtics, who were boosted by the return of captain Paul Pierce, missing with a heel bruise in their first three games.

The Celtics got 3-point baskets on consecutive possessions to start the third quarter from Ray Allen and Pierce, forcing Lawrence Frank to call a timeout just 46 seconds into the second half. The snowball kept rolling downhill, though, as Boston shot 71 percent for the third quarter and stretched that seven-point lead to 25.

“Seven went to 13 like that,” Frank said. “We lost a little bit of our poise on the offensive end. Slower to get into stuff, plus they turned it up defensively and it took us a while to regroup and respond. By the time we found a little bit of a rhythm, they scored 36 points in the third quarter. Transition was a big part of it and part of it was their defense spurred their offense. We got stuck in that stretch and didn’t recover.”

“That quarter has been giving us problems the first three games,” Greg Monroe said. “We’ve got to come out at halftime with more energy. Those threes came from bad offensive possessions. We had to get two good possessions to start the quarter and we probably would have been in better shape.”

Monroe kept the Pistons close in an efficient first half that saw him score 14 points, grab four rebounds and dish our three assists. Monroe finished with 22 points and nine rebounds despite short minutes in the second half when Boston seized firm control of the game by the midway point of the third quarter.

“Greg offensively was very good tonight,” Frank said. “He was a hub for us. He was very, very efficient. I thought he did a good job when we had cuts and movement off of him. I thought he made good decisions. That was an encouraging sign from that end – some growth there.”

But the Pistons got little from their perimeter group. Ben Gordon played well but didn’t get enough scoring chances, finishing with nine points on 10 shots, a few of them forced with the shot clock running down. Rodney Stuckey, though dishing out seven assists against just one turnover, shot only 1 of 11 and scored three points.

Rookie Brandon Knight, dazzling in his Palace debut with 23 points on Wednesday, got off to a tough start but recovered to play much better in the second half. Knight finished with 10 points in 26 minutes, but shot 3 of 11.

The Pistons had been outrebounded by double digits in each of their two losses, and while they managed to address that issue – they actually outrebounded Boston, 35-30 – their defense continued to be leaky. Boston shot a staggering 71 percent in the third quarter before scoring just 10 fourth-quarter points when Doc Rivers let the bench play heavy minutes.

“The game’s played on both ends,” Frank said. “Your offense has to be a part of your defense. Our offense tonight made our defense a whole lot tougher job.”

So the Pistons get one more shot before 2011 flips to 2012. They’ll tip at 6 p.m. at The Palace on a New Year’s Eve they’d like to toast with a win.