Days of Old
Pistons put up a fight, falter down stretch in loss to Boston
It could have been 1987 all over again – a young Pistons team coming to Boston and measuring itself against the East’s reigning power, carrying the game for most of the night but leaving the Garden, old or new, soaked in heartache and frustration yet fueled by hope for a brighter future. And wondering where they hide the wretched leprechauns.
The Pistons led most of the game, by eight midway through the fourth, and by four again after the Celtics rallied back twice to tie, but for the want of a few more rebounds they saw the Celtics close on an 8-0 run as the Pistons missed their last six shots over six possessions.
“Couldn’t ask for more from my guys,” said Tracy McGrady, who continued his ascent as a team leader with 36 minutes at the point, dealing seven assists. “We did a hell of a job competing with those guys. This is a tough place to play and what it really came down to was who was going to execute. Them being a veteran club and knowing how to close these types of games out, they did that. On the other hand, we’re still growing. But I like the way we competed tonight.”
The game was tied at 82 with under a minute left when the Pistons got the stop they needed, forcing a miss from Kevin Garnett. But Rajon Rondo knifed inside to grab the offensive rebound and give the Celtics another chance. Ray Allen, bottled up all night – he was 1 of 7 at the time – then drained a tough, turnaround jumper, originally ruled a 3-pointer but changed to a two.
The Pistons got a good look from Rodney Stuckey, a runner in the lane that rattled off the rim, and after a Boston free throw, they got another good shot from Ben Gordon, a driving layup on which John Kuester thought Glen Davis fouled him.
Like all those games before the Bad Boys became the Bad Boys, finally KO’ing the Celtics in the 1988 Eastern Conference finals, the Pistons left muttering about what might have been but at the same time encouraged by the process of measuring themselves against the acknowledged power and finding they belonged in their company.
For one night, at least. Indeed, it was quite likely the Pistons’ best road performance of the season, even in defeat. They came in at 4-17 with wins over the LA Clippers, Sacramento and Toronto twice.
“We did a great job of defending them throughout the night,” Kuester said. “The problem is we had to keep them off the boards. Rondo’s offensive rebound at the end – those little things hurt you. But our players played with a sense of urgency throughout the night, they were poised and I’m very pleased with our effort.”
But just as this was a test for the Pistons, they understand that so, too, will be the last leg of this two-game road trek, when they play at New Jersey and can’t afford to play down to the competition.
“So far, we’re on a roll,” Charlie Villanueva said. “There’s a lot of positives you can take from this game. We have another one in New Jersey – we have to take that.”
The Pistons ebbed and flowed offensively against the Celtics, who remain an elite defensive team, but held up well consistently on defense. They held the NBA’s top shooting team – the only one making better than half their shots – to 42 percent. It was the rebounding – specifically, Boston’s four offensive boards in the fourth quarter – that undermined otherwise superb team defense.
“Very encouraging for my guys,” McGrady said. “We competed with the best team in the East and one of the better teams in the league on their home court. If we can give this type of effort night in and night out, we’re going to give ourselves a chance. We’ve just got to learn how to close out games and execute down the stretch.”