Pistons 94, Celtics 75
Pick your cliche. A pendulum? A roller coaster? A tug-of-war? They all fit the Boston/Detroit series.
The Pistons needed a complete turnaround from their Game Three performance to avoid falling into an inescapable 3-1 hole. They got it. Once again, the teams traded roles from the previous game. The Pistons were more aggressive on both ends of the floor. They did a better job of moving the ball. They got a dominant performance from their bench. They shot the ball better. The Celtics had the edge in all of these categories in Game Three. The Pistons had it in Game Two. The Celtics had it in Game One. See a pattern here?
Perhaps itís a question of motivation, of who is more desperate for the win. Itís as good an explanation as any. Even the status of Chauncey Billupsí injury seems to morph from game to game. Heís been hobbled all the way through, no doubt about that, and in Game Four he again did the splits, aggravating his hamstring and grimacing in pain. Still, he managed to stay on the floor for 32 minutes, running the Pistonsí efficient attack and hitting a backbreaking three-pointer down the stretch. He also pestered Ray Allen into a putrid performance.
Detroit came out in Game Three completely flat. In Game Four, they burst out of the gate full of vim and vigor. The Pistons scored the first 10 points of the game and led 16-4. Boston made a nice run towards the end of the quarter to trim the advantage to five. That set the pattern for the first three periods--a fast Detroit start and a strong Celtic finish. The Celtics were 3-of-15 from the floor in the first quarter but hung close because of an 11-of-11 showing at the line, another pattern which repeated itself throughout Mondayís game. Detroitís pressure defense forced five Celtic turnovers while the Pistons committed just one miscue. Individually, Antonio McDyess was off to a great start, with 11 points and four rebounds in the opening frame.
The pattern repeated in the second quarter. Detroit jumped out to a 33-19 lead. Boston followed a timeout with a 6-0 run to narrow the advantage. For the second straight game, the Celtics seemed to outplay the Pistons in the ensuing couple of minutes after a timeout. Chalk one up for Doc Rivers. By the end of the half, Boston had closed the gap to 43-39 despite playing a very poor two quarters. The Celtics shot 11-of-30 with no three-pointers, handed out six assists and committed 11 turnovers. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were a combined 2-of-10 in the first half. Boston stayed close by outscoring Detroit 17-5 from the foul line and outrebounding the Pistons 23-13.
Allen was playing particularly bad. Towards the end of the second half, commentator Jeff Van Gundy made a great point about Allen. He said that while his shooting has been undeniably poor, his teammates havenít helped matters by incessantly throwing errant passes his direction. There have been several instances when Allen appeared to have worked himself open for a shot only to lose the look while chasing down a bad pass. Thatís not to put the onus for his struggles on his teammates. The point simply underscores that Rivers has not made a sustained, concentrated effort to keep Allen involved and in the flow of the offensive scheme. Boston just seems to run their normal offense and Allen is not able to free himself from the defense of Rip Hamilton.
Once again, Detroit got off to a fast start in the third quarter, building a 59-48 lead. McDyess has two primary skills at this point in his career: face-up jumpers and offensive rebounds. He killed the Celtics with both talents on Monday. McDyess had eight points and seven rebounds in the third quarter. For the game, he had 21 points and 16 rebounds, seven of them off the offensive glass. Nevertheless, Boston kept getting to the foul line and trailed by just seven after three quarters despite going 4-of-15 from the field in the period.
The fourth quarter was about missed opportunities for the Celtics. Paul Pierce missed a wide-open three-pointer that could have closed the gap to 65-63 with 10:45 to play. Three-point shooting was a non-factor in Mondayís game. James Poseyís three with 10:00 left in the game was the first for either team. Prior to that, the clubs were both 0-of-7 from beyond the arc. Billups hit a big three down the stretch and Jarvis Hayes chucked one in during garbage time.
After a timeout in mid-quarter, Boston went on a 6-2 run to close within 78-73. The Celtics then had two golden chances to slice into the lead but failed to do so. Rasheed Wallace then made a couple of free throws and Billups hit his three, pushing the lead to 10. That was all she wrote. The Celtics floundered during the last three minutes as the Pistons closed the game with a 9-0 run that made the final margin look much more decisive than it actually was.
Boston played hard but played like garbage for most of the night. Pierce and Allen finished a combined 5-of-22 from the floor. They also combined to go 17-of-20 from the line--they played hard but not well. Allenís game score ended up at minus three thanks to his own inefficient performance and because his defensive assignment, Hamilton, scored 20 points on 10 field-goal attempts. The Pistons posted a 52.9 eFG% in the game; Boston was at 32.6 after surpassing breakeven in the previous two games. The pace was right on schedule--79 possessions per team after three straight games at 80. In the final tally, Detroitís offensive efficiency was 118.3; Bostonís 94.4. Detroit had 27 assists to Bostonís 12.
So here we go, back to Boston for Game Five on Wednesday and what Iím sure will be an entirely different game than the one we saw on Monday. If motivation is really a key factor, give the edge to Boston because the Celtics canít afford to fall behind 3-2 heading back to Detroit. The Celticsí effort was fine in Game Four but their execution wasnít. To me itís telling that Boston was in position to steal the contest even through Detroit was playing at the top of its game. So I expect Bostonís shooting woes from Monday to be corrected next time out and for the Celtics to reclaim the advantage. Down the line, though, I think we can start planning for a Game Seven on Sunday night.
Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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