Sometimes gauging NBA progress is like watching a potato plant grow. All the really interesting stuff goes on below ground level. But sometimes it’s right there in full view. Mark down what the Pistons did in Boston on a mid-February weeknight in the latter category – a big, loud, neon-encrusted sign of progress.
Twenty-four hours after the Pistons came back in the second half to lead San Antonio but lost, they came back against another NBA titan – this time on the road, this time against a fully rested opponent – and planted a big foot in the chest of the Boston Celtics, winning 98-88 Wednesday on the strength of a dominant fourth quarter.
The comeback started late in the third quarter, when the Pistons outscored Boston 8-2 inside the final two-plus minutes to take a one-point lead headed to the fourth. Then they pulled away, Ben Gordon taking the baton from Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey before him, knocking down a series of critical deep jump shots. The run reached 28-10 at one point.
“We just played with some heart tonight,” said Gordon, who dropped 22 points off the bench, logging 28 minutes as Brandon Knight got in first-half foul trouble and played just 19 minutes. “Yeah, we made a lot of mistakes, but the main thing is we just played with our heart. We got up and down, got defensive stops when we needed and were able to get out on the break a little bit. We played a full 48 minutes, regardless of the mistakes we made during the game.”
The Pistons took the fight to Boston early, Stuckey especially pushing the pace. But the Pistons couldn’t get a handle on Rajon Rondo. Kevin Garnett sat out with a hip issue and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen combined for just 20 points and made four baskets between them, but it looked for much of the night that Rondo alone would offset all the good work the Pistons could muster. He had 19 at the half and 31 through three quarters.
But with Ben Wallace – who else? – helping shut down the paint in the fourth quarter, the Pistons held Rondo to four points and the Celtics to 16 as they pulled away. Wallace went the final 18 minutes straight in Tuesday’s game and Lawrence Frank monitored his energy level, but there was nothing really to monitor. Wallace again turned back the clock, spearing a season-best 11 rebounds and helping hold Boston to 44 percent shooting.
“We came out and executed our game plan,” said Wallace, who was needed for 16 minutes in part because Jonas Jerebko didn’t play after halftime, sitting with an ice bag wrapped to his left lower leg. “We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. Everybody who played contributed and we got a good win. To get it done on their home court, that’s big.”
Monroe, coming off a four-point game in which Frank played him only 22 minutes, carried the Pistons through the third quarter, scoring 16 points of his 22 points in the second half. He made 11 of 14 shots and added nine rebounds as the Pistons beat up Boston on the glass, 44-33, Monroe and Wallace combining for seven offensive rebounds.
“You have to have a short memory in this league,” he said. “Everybody has a bad night. I can’t get that game back, so I have to do whatever I can to help my team win.”
Gordon had three big triples in the game’s decisive run, a 12-2 spurt that saw the Pistons go from one up to 11 ahead. The first, a bomb with the shot clock buzzing, gave the Pistons a 78-74 lead.
“BG was very, very good – gave us a great lift,” Frank said. “It was a total team win. We had great production from everyone who played in the game. It was an encouraging game.”