I say this without hyperbole: last night's game was the most entertaining playoff game Detroit's played in years. It was competitive throughout, the big names on both teams showed up and it came down to the very end. (And, of course, the Pistons won.)
But of all the things that went right for the Pistons -- and there was a lot of things, including the real return of Chauncey Billups, the steady production of Antonio McDyess, the clutch scoring by Rasheed Wallace -- what was most exciting was the emergence of Rodney Stuckey.
He was solid in the first half, but for a stretch late in the third and early in the fourth, he put the team on his shoulders and carried them. His line in the box score barely does justice for his impact on the game, but here it is: 13 points (5-8 FG, 3-3 FT) in 17 minutes, with three assists and two steals.
Even the Celtics were impressed. From the Boston Globe's blog:
"I thought Stuckey really gave us problems tonight," said Celtics forward Paul Pierce. "I think he was the X-factor tonight in this game."
Chosen to sit at the interview podium with veteran Rip Hamilton, Stuckey relished the moment. Most of the questions were directed at his teammate, but the young point guard lit up when asked if he was nervous before tonight's game.
"I'm never scared," Stuckey said as more of a revelation than a boast. "I'm not nervous. I've got Rip, Chaunce, Sheed, Tay and all these guys behind me, and Lindsey Hunter, and they keep me poised and confident every day. Just being around them and them always being poised and confident gives me the extra energy and confidence that I need as a player and as an individual."
A. Sherrod Blakely of Booth Newspapers has Lindsey Hunter's post-game reaction:
"He's so far ahead right now," Hunter said. "He has that something that as a young guard in this league, you gotta have. I'm not talking about just to make it, but be one of the elite. I think that's where he's headed."
Hunter is right when talking about that "something." Stuckey does a lot of things well -- getting to the rim, drawing contact, protecting the ball -- but his biggest strength may be the one that's most difficult to quantify: he's extremely confident and unflappable.
A lot of rookies wilt under pressure, especially rookies from small schools who never came within spitting distance of the bright lights of March Madness. But Stuckey has always shown the poise of a veteran, the quiet confidence of someone who expects to do well and isn't surprised by his success.
And that's really why this game was so exciting -- it wasn't just about the tying the series, it was also peeking into the future. As DBB reader Rob G said in the comments after the game:
Boston has a big three. So do we. Stuckey wears #3. He’s the man.
The key will be reproducing that performance over the rest of the playoffs, but if you look at what he's done the last few games, consistency is becoming less and less of an issue for him.
From here the series heads to Detroit. As I'm sure you've heard 10,000 times before, the Celtics have yet to win on the road in the playoffs, but to be fair, they've yet to fall behind in a series, either. I'm sure it's weighing on their confidence at least a little, but probably not as much as most people think considering they had the best road record in the regular season.
That said, Detroit took Boston's best shot and didn't flinch. As LawyerBoy said in the comments:
Ray Allen 9-16 (5-5 from FT) for 25
Paul Pierce 9-16 (6-6 from FT) for 26
KG 11-19 (2-2 from FT) for 24.
That’s the Big 3 combining for 75 on 20-34 (58.8%) shooting … and we still beat them.
If you're a Celtics fan, you can't expect the Big Three to play any better, at least not all at the same time. Maybe one of them goes off like Pierce did in Game 7 against the Cavaliers, but it'd come at the expense of someone else. The rest of the Celtics combined to score just 22 points.
We knew Detroit's depth was an advantage on paper, and on Thursday we saw it in action. The way I see it, it's only going to get worse for the Celtics, especially with fatigue setting in:
Q. Paul and Kevin said it was kind of a step slow on defense. Was it simply that, or was it something else, as well?
COACH DOC RIVERS: No, there's nothing wrong. I told you yesterday, the games I was fearful with the fatigue factor was today. I thought the adrenaline of Game 7 would take us through Game 1. Our coaches felt the same way. They made shots off of single doubles that usually we're able to lock and trail and stay behind, and we were a step or two behind. Not a lot you can do with it. You know, we're going to rest tomorrow and we'll be ready for Game 3.
Technically we have a tie series, but it sure feels like Detroit took a commanding lead.
Pistons 103, Celtics 97 box score / ESPN.com