You're never going to hear a member of the Pistons admit they might be a better team without Allen Iverson in the game, but several members of the Celtics had no problem pointing out suggesting as much.
First, Doc Rivers:
On the Pistons moving the ball like the "old Pistons":
"Well that was unfortunately my pre-game, that this is the old Pistons we’re playing now. The ball is hopping; they’re playing together. And we were going to have to really compete. I thought a lot of – they had great fire tonight. They didn’t want to get swept by us. You know, ABC – I was laughing every day this week, ‘Sunday’s game, Celtics have a chance to sweep the Piston.’ And I’m thinking, ‘stop running that ad! You’re like putting bulletin board material on for them.’ But we didn’t play well. Our defense was not what it’s been. We were a step late. But I give them credit. They made a lot of big shots tonight, a lot of big threes, came at their extra passes. So you’ve got to give them credit."
On Rip Hamilton on Ray Allen:
"They got something going every night. You know, when we played Detroit they made a choice. Number one, Rip takes it very personal when he plays Ray. Clearly there’s some UConn stuff going on. And then they trap Ray on the catch. What Ray just has to keep doing, I thought he tried to hold onto it a couple times. Just get rid of it, and what that does is allows the floor to be open and other guys will score. But it’s tough on Ray. We definitely have to solve that, because they’ve done a great job. They did a terrific job on Ray during the playoffs last year, and they really have guarded him well this year as well."
(That last comment wasn't exactly about AI, but I thought Rip's defense on Ray Allen was key -- if Iverson started the game on Allen, there's no chance he would have finished with just 10 points. Just saying.)
Now, Paul Pierce:
On Pistons playing with Iverson:
"You can tell they’re playing the system they played before Iverson got there. They run a lot of down screens with Rip. They run a lot of high pick n rolls with Stuckkey. That’s what Chauncey used to do and Stuckkey has been there. Those guys that are out on the court, they’re comfortable with each other you know when Iverson is out there they’re still trying to figure out how to use each other, how to all be successful. But that group out there is definitely comfortable because they’ve played together for a number of years."
"They kind of came out like they had a point to prove, they run stuff harder. They played harder than us, they were more physical, and they came out with the win."
I know I'm going to get ripped in the comments by the same 3-4 readers who always pipe up whenever AI's flaws are pointed out, but whatever: if Iverson can't adjust to the bench, give him Stephon Marbury treatment. Yes, he tends to say all the right things, but at least one beat writer openly suspects Iverson's absence the last two games has less to do with a back injury and more to do with being upset about his demotion:
Michael Curry said there was no correlation between Iverson going back to Detroit for further diagnosis on his back and the news that he was benched. But, come on. The MRI was clean. The back injury was a convenient excuse to get away and clear his head. No way did he want to answer questions about coming off the bench.
If the players and coaching staff are getting the same vibe (and to be fair, there's no evidence yet that's the case), the smart move would be to cut bait -- with a .500 record and only 24 games to go, there's little margin for error.
And besides, anyone who's watched the last two and a half games would have a hard time arguing it hasn't been addition by subtraction with Iverson absent. As Tayshaun Prince admitted after Friday's win over the Magic, the team is rejuvenated with Rip back in a starring role:
"There was a sense of urgency that you could see to try and get things going. I tried to get things going and had the hot hand right away. At the end of the day, we know who our first option is and we tried to get Rip going. He carried us.
Read that again: "We know who our first option is." At the risk of reading between the lines, it seems like the players have been waiting for this move for a long time.