“At the end of the day, the more games we win, the better position we’re in,” said Greg Monroe, who racked up his fifth straight double-double with 15 points and 11 boards and hit two ice-breaking free throws in the fourth quarter to stave off Boston’s last rally. “We just try to focus on the game at hand. We don’t want to lose any games worrying about who’s in front of us or who’s not. We just want to focus on the game at hand, make sure we win that game and get ready for the next game. Once all that’s done, the chips will fall where they are.”
The X factor Sunday was how the Pistons would respond to their trek to London, a whirlwind that saw them spend nine hours on a plane getting back on Friday and needing to reset their body clocks in time for a critical conference game.
Nothing to worry about, it turned out. The Pistons had an obvious bounce to their step early, Brandon Knight engaging Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo defensively, Kyle Singler chasing down loose balls at both ends and Jason Maxiell blocking shots and causing his usual havoc in the paint.
“It was a team thing,” said Knight, who rebounded from a one-point game in London with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. “I tried to start it off and it picked up. Willy B came in and did a great job, Kyle did a great job being aggressive and our bigs did a great job. The team had a great energy all the way around.”
Shen Boston started counterpunching after a sluggish first quarter that saw the Celtics trail by as much as 13 points, the Pistons had the stuff to fight back. A 9-0 run sparked by Will Bynum and Andre Drummond gave the Pistons an 18-point lead early in the second quarter, but Boston went on a 30-12 run – abetted by a zone defense that forced a rash of turnovers – to wipe out all of it.
But the Pistons would never relinquish the lead and they doggedly built it back to 16 points early in the fourth quarter, weathering a final storm when they failed to score on seven straight possessions before Monroe forced a foul in the post with 4:11 to play.
“I was aware we had gone a stretch without scoring,” Monroe said. “That was the play (Lawrence Frank) called. I was just trying to be aggressive in the post.”
That was the subplot to the game, really – the Pistons as aggressors on a night Boston’s stars were almost curiously passive. Kevin Garnett finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, but when he was pulled midway through the first quarter, the Pistons led 13-4 and Garnett had registered nothing save one missed shot. Rondo was alternately brilliant and sloppy, with 15 assists but nine turnovers. And Paul Pierce needed to score six points in the fourth quarter to get to 10 for the game, taking just 10 shots.
Doc Rivers resorted to near gimmicky – extended use of the zone and a Hack-a-Drummond strategy that backfired when the on-the-come Pistons rookie drained 6 of 8 at the line – and Boston’s coach left The Palace in a foul mood.
“It as awful,” he said as the Celtics lost their third straight. “I am clearly not doing my job for this team and I am serious. I am not trying to take a bullet for the team and I told them that. I said we have to find something where all 12 guys play the same way.”
Drummond put up 16 points and seven rebounds in 20 tidy minutes, throwing down five dunks to go with his six free throws. Will Bynum got him going with lobs on consecutive plays to open the second quarter, adding another in the second half to go with a lob from Monroe. Drummond also dunked off a Charlie Villanueva miss. Drummond’s big night came against the team from his back yard and he knows family members – including his uncle, Phil Santavanere, a huge Celtics fan – were watching.
“It feels great coming off a great win like this,” he said. “It was a little frustrating taking a loss over in London. We knew we had to bounce back. We played really hard today. … A lot of my family and friends were watching the game. It’s great knowing I had a good game today.”
“Boston had to do things – going to a zone, they’ll play some but they normally don’t play that much,” Frank said. “Going to foul Andre – that’s not something they normally do. Just stay the course. It can go the other way. Especially early in the year, big lead, lose it, lose the game. Here, big lead, lose it, win the game. Staying with it.”
After their 0-8 start, the Pistons stayed with it. At 15-25, they might yet put themselves in position for a playoff push.