Pistons Bully Boston
As agonizing as too many nights of the past few season have been for the Pistons, Joe Dumars had to look at what unfolded at The Palace on Sunday night and know he’s well down a path that the Boston Celtics will soon be forced to travel.
Oh, the Celtics are more than likely going to the playoffs this season and the Pistons, barring a remarkable second half of the season and some stumbling from teams ahead of them, are a postseason long shot.
But the Pistons made the Celtics look old Sunday, beating them for the second time in five nights, 96-81. Boston played without Kevin Garnett, but the truth is the 15-point margin could have been much wider. The Pistons missed 17 free throws, but the fact they got to the line a whopping 46 times – 33 had been their season’s best – underscored just how wide the gap was between these two teams.
Want a few more examples of how the Pistons were the aggressor on a night Lawrence Frank, who knows the Celtics well after spending last season as Doc Rivers’ top assistant coach, fully expected Boston to try to impose its will defensively to atone for being embarrassed at home by the Pistons earlier in the week? Try this: In second-chance points, the Pistons hammered Boston 29-6. In points in the paint, it was 42-20.
“We definitely were the aggressor tonight,” said Greg Monroe, who racked up another double-double with 17 points and 10 boards despite missing 6 of 7 at the line after starting the night as an 81 percent foul shooter. “We got a lot of second-chance points, we got a lot of free throws. We have to make more – especially myself – but we definitely were the aggressor tonight.”
The Celtics were without Kevin Garnett again – he missed last week’s game with a hip injury but was not with the team to attend to a family situation on Sunday – but the Pistons held all of Boston’s All-Stars well within check. Paul Pierce managed 18 points but his all-around impact was limited; his four assists were offset by five turnovers. Ray Allen, guarded mostly by Rodney Stuckey, had 13 points, 11 in the third quarter when the Celtics made one brief rally to get within five. Rajon Rondo, after racking up a career-high 35 last week, was held to five and was booted in the third quarter when he picked up a pair of technicals.
“Let’s be fair to them – they were without Kevin Garnett,” Frank said. “We were trading punches in the first quarter and starting with that second quarter, I was really happy with our guys, just their intent and their intensity, the ability to create offensive opportunities, the deflections, the active hands, the extra passes that were made.”
The Celtics are where the Pistons were about four years ago – still of the mind that if everyone stays healthy, they can make one last legitimate run at a championship. Time might reveal that to be a grand delusion, but whether the Celtics play into June this season or not their reality includes a major rebuilding in the very near future. There comes a tipping point for every contender; the Pistons might have pushed Boston closer to reaching it over the past five days.
Their future, of course, will be dictated largely by the young nucleus that includes Monroe, Brandon Knight and Stuckey. Stuckey scored 16 points, getting to the line 15 times, his fourth straight game of double-digit attempts. Knight had 12, Tayshaun Prince 13 and Jonas Jerebko 13 off the bench.
The win makes the Pistons 7-2 over their last nine games after a 4-20 start. They’ll go on the road to Cleveland and Toronto now before the All-Star break, hoping they can continue to show progress both in their consistency of effort and staying true to Frank’s desire to be the team that hits first.
“Our defense has really been helping us throughout this whole little streak we’re having,” Stuckey said. “We’ve just got to continue to play with each other. We’re doing a good job of sharing the ball, as well. Getting stops and being able to pretty much do whatever we want on offense is a good thing and it’s helping us out.”