I watched last night's tilt with the Celtics pretty closely ... for about a quarter. Once the Pistons pulled away in the second and proved the Celtics (losers of 14 straight entering the night) were not in fact wolves in sheep's clothing, my concentration waned. I still had the game on in my office, but I watched the middle two quarters out of the corner of my eye.
The Pistons led by as many as 25, but a truly horrific fourth quarter allowed the Celtics to save face and only lose by seven. Four of the five starters were on the bench in the fourth quarter when the Pistons started having a little too much fun -- a missed alley-opp attempt here, some matador-style defense there -- and the next thing you know the Celts ripped off a 13-0 run. That prompted Flip Saunders to re-insert Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince and Chris Webber, but after the Pistons scored a quick five points even the starters allowed the Celtics to finish the game on a 11-3 run.
That said, this game was never as close as the final score indicates. Granted, the Pistons were hardly inspired on defense -- the Celtics shot 56% from the floor -- but Detroit's offense was clicking. They shot 58% from the field with a season-high 32 assists on 44 field goals, including 11 dimes from Rip Hamilton. (Rip scored just 10 points, but he also took just 10 shots, more than seven below his season average.)
Antonio McDyess scored a season-high 18 on 9-10 shooting and Chris Webber turned in another excellent performance: 17 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals in 34 minutes. Said Doc Rivers after the game:
"We really didn't have a chance," Rivers said. "We played a better team tonight. They had some matchup advantages, and they went right at us. The problem is that, with Webber in the middle, there's not much you can do. He might be their best passer."
Chauncey Billups led the team with 24 points and handed out seven assists with no turnovers. He also nailed his 700th three-pointer as a member of the Pistons (as well as his 701st, 702nd and 703rd), joining Joe Dumars and Lindsey Hunter as the only players to reach that milestone wearing a Detroit jersey. I have no idea how significant this is because I have no idea who's in fourth place or how long ago Billups passed him. But 700 is a nice round number, and since every other game recap will likely mention the accomplishment, I didn't want to be left out. So join me: yay 700!
This should have been a game for the bench to step up and make a statement -- and preferably a statement like "I deserve more playing time!" and not "Hey, let's throw more alley-oops!" Jason Maxiell scored just two (0-4 shooting) in 14 minutes, but added a couple of boards and two blocks. Carlos Delfino scored 10 but left some points on the floor with a couple of missed layups.
But still, it'd take an awfully jaded pessimist to be upset with this win. The Celtics, meanwhile, lost a franchise-record 15th consecutive game. The record for most losses in a season is 23, set first by the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies in 1996 and then again by the Denver Nuggets in 1997.
Rival or not, I hate to see any of the NBA's storied franchises go through such tough times, but by now I'm kind of hoping they can at least make history. Incidentally, Greg Oden, the potential silver-lining for Boston's misery, ate up my Michigan Wolverines last night to the tune of 15 points, eight boards and five blocks.