By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Sixth Straight Win Puts Celtics In Playoffs
BOSTON — Kevin Garnett scored 31 points on 13-for-22 shooting and Kendrick Perkins grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds as the Boston Celtics defeated the Detroit Pistons 90-78 Wednesday night at the TD Bank North Garden.
The win, which was Boston’s sixth consecutive, secured the Cs a spot in the playoffs for the first time in two years. The Celtics were able to hold off a third quarter comeback that was led by former Celtic Chauncey Billups.
Billups scored 18 of his 23 points in the third quarter converting all three of his field goal attempts and each of his eleven attempts from the charity stripe as Detroit was able to turn what was once a 12-point Pistons deficit with 8:37 remaining in the third quarter into a two-point Boston advantage heading into the final frame.
But Boston turned up the defense and outscored Detroit 22-11 in the final quarter holding the Pistons to only 22.2% from the field to preserve the victory.
Boston started the game with much more energy than the Detroit Pistons, who had just beaten Seattle at home the night before. The Celtics jumped out to a 15-3 lead before Detroit coach Flip Saunders called a timeout to attempt to energize his players.
However, the pep talk didn’t work, and the Pistons didn’t score in double-digits until 2:06 left in the first quarter when Rip Hamilton hit a 15-footer (21-11). The Cs ended the quarter with a 10-point cushion, and were led by Garnett’s eight points and Paul Pierce’s seven.
The Truth didn’t miss a shot in the opening quarter as he converted all three of his field goals, including a three-pointer and his only free throw. Perkins set the defensive tone with seven rebounds and a block shot in the opening frame, and Boston closed the quarter shooting 58.8% from the field.
But basketball is a game of runs, and Detroit went on a tear early in the second frame before Glen “Big Baby” Davis was able to stop Detroit’s 10-4 run with a reverse lay-up with 8:29 left in the half to give Boston a 27-23 lead.
Rasheed Wallace, who battled Garnett throughout the quarter, then answered with an emphatic two-handed slam to pull Detroit back to within two.
The Celtics then went on a run of their own; an 11-0 run that was capped off with Garnett losing Antonio McDyess in the post and slamming home his 16th point (36-25), and KG tossing in a hook in the lane on Wallace (38-25).
Tayshaun Prince (seven points, five assists, 10 rebounds) finally helped break Detroit’s scoreless drought that lasted 4:03 when he fed McDyess in the lane for a dunk (38-27) with 4:09 remaining in the half.
If it weren’t for the efforts of Wallace and Hamilton the Pistons would have found themselves in a huge whole entering the second half, but the Detroit duo were able to keep their team in the game as Wallace scored 14 points in the second quarter and Rip scored 10 first half points.
Pierce (10 first half points) closed the quarter with a three-pointer from the left corner to give Boston a 10-point lead heading into the second half. Boston headed into halftime with a 47-37 advantage as the Big Ticket accounted for half of the 24 points scored by the Green in the second frame.
The third quarter belonged to Billups. The No. 3 overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft by the Celtics came out of a timeout and closed the Detroit deficit to nine when he converted a tear drop, finger-roll and drew Perkins’ fourth foul with 7:29 left in the quarter.
Billups made the and-one to make the score 55-46. After Garnett nailed a 20-footer to push Boston’s lead back to 11 with 7:07 left, Billups scored the Pistons next eight points on a jumper and six free throws (57-50).
Celtic starting point guard Rajon Rondo then brought the 18,624 live witnesses to their feet when he went by Hamilton and powered a one-handed dunk over Detroit reserve Jason Maxiell for this 10th point of the game (61-54). A hell of a dunk is how Garnett described it after the game.
However, the Pistons made it a two point game 5:02 later when Billups nailed a three pointer, and then closed the third frame by feeding Prince for an easy lay-up.
Billups scorched the Cs for 18 third quarter points. The 11- year veteran was a perfect three-for-three from the field, including one from the deep end, and 11-for-11 from the charity stripe. Detroit outscored Boston 30-22 in the third frame and closed the gap to 69-67 heading into the final 12:00.
Momentum swung in Detroit’s favor heading into the final quarter. Amir Johnson swallowed up a Rondo lay-up, which led to Prince knotting the score at 69, the first time the score was tied since the game began.
The two teams then went scoreless for the next 1:47 before the Big Ticket drew Wallace’s fifth foul. KG converted one of two free throws to regain the lead (70-69).
A nice up-and-under move in the trenches by Garnett on Johnson gave Boston a five-point lead (74-69). Detroit then threatened two more times when Rasheed’s three closed the gap to two (76-74), and Hamilton (15 points) nailed a 23-footer to bring Detroit to within one (78-77).
But Pierce hit a shot from the deep end as the shot clock expired (81-77) to let some of the gas out of the Pistons. When Wallace (23 points on 10-for-24 shooting, including 3-for-10 from the deep end) lost the ball going up for a three-point attempt and the Truth took advantage of the turnover by scoring his 15th point of the game on a wide open lay-up the Celtics never looked back.
Garnett put the icing on the cake when he threw a no-look pass to Perkins, and the Celtics cruised the rest of the way to record the 90-78 victory. “I thought there was some times when we had some good looks and couldn’t knock them down,” said Billups, who ended the game with 23 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and two blocks.
“You got to give them credit as well. Their defense was locked in.”
Rondo scored 16 points and dished out five assists in 36 minutes of action. He also contributed a game-high five turnovers. “I was so proud of him in the stretch where Chauncey tried to take the game over,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the game.
“Because that’s tough, when a guy is attacking you like that with his reputation. You can get your head down. And Rondo didn’t do that.”
“He’s confident against Chauncey,” told the Truth after the game. “He knows he’s played well against him and he’s growing up each and every game right before our eyes. The way he controls the game”
“This was a big game. This is one of the biggest games of the season, and stayed poised. And that’s hard to do for a guy in his second year. It was a huge game for us and we knew that from day one.” s
“This is not an easy match up. This is probably the deepest (team). Not just because of the depth on the bench and stuff, but just because they are experienced.”
When asked about his season-high 31 point performance, Garnett quipped, “I was in the flow early and I just never looked back.”