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By forcing Boston Celtics to bring playoff intensity, Pistons show progress

For 40 minutes, the Celtics and Pistons played regular-season basketball. But when the Celtics switched into playoff gear down the stretch, Detroit barely had a chance.

After building a 75-67 lead with 7:52 remaining, the Pistons watched Boston take this game from them. The Celtics turned up their defensive pressure, and the Pistons could barely complete passes, let alone a shot. The Celtics crashed the offensive glass, and the Pistons could barely stop Boston possessions from eventually ending in points.

In that final stretch of their 86-82 win, the Celtics:

  • outscored Detroit, 19-7.
  • outrebounded Detroit, 10-7.
  • outscored Detroit in second-chance points, 7-2.

That’s all downside, but despite the disappointing ending, this game displayed plenty of encouraging signs for the Pistons.

The Pistons beat the regular-season Celtics and had a chance, albeit slim, against the post-season Celtics tonight. A week ago, who would have thought either would be possible?

With a new-found defensive cohesion, the Pistons built a strong lead. With Greg Monroe, the Pistons went from definitely not having a chance late to barely having a chance late, and unless your expectations rose too high during Detroit’s three-game win streak, that’s a positive step.

Let’s start with the defensive cohesion. The Pistons rotated quickly, and everyone appeared committed to stopping the Celtics. Tracy McGrady had two steals and two blocks, and Tayshaun Prince, Chris Wilcox and Charlie Villanueva each added a steal and a block.

Although nearly every Piston’s stood out positively on defense, I want to pay particular attention to Villanueva. He entered the game, quickly missed his first two shots and didn’t offer much else to make up for that. But he realized that wouldn’t cut it and began attacking the glass, finishing with eight rebounds in 30 minutes, and applying pressure to the man he was guarding.

As far as having a chance late, yes, 19-7 in about eight minutes looks pretty bad. But it could have been much worse. And when the Celtics channel a playoff-like intensity against a 15-27 team, it usually is much worse.

But Monroe made me add “barely” three times in this post’s opening, rather than just counting the Pistons’ fortunes at zero.

With the Celtics trailing by eight late, Shaquille O’Neal went on an 9-1 run. He converted two layups on lob passes from Rajon Rondo. Then, he stole a Rodney Stuckey pass, which led to a Paul Pierce layup. Shaq followed that with another layup, this one while McGrady fouled him, and even made the free throw.

That’s what contenders do. They rely on experienced players. They dominate inside. They stomp on your heart in a matter of minutes.

Shaq, the league’s leader in body mass index, according Hayes Davenport of Celtics Hub, was a mismatch the Pistons’ two bigs on the court – Wilcox and Villanueva – couldn’t handle. John Kuester got outcoached by asking two slender power forwards to keep Shaq off balance.

But unlike most losing teams, the Pistons had an answer – bringing Monroe back in the game. As much I’ve said Monroe must gain lower-body strength, he’s still easily the team’s bulkiest big man with Ben Wallace sidelined.

With Monroe on the court, Shaq didn’t score again. Monroe scored a late layup after a nice drive and pass from Stuckey, who baited the Boston defenders toward him just enough. Monroe converted the type of shot he struggled with early in the season. Rather than just forcing the ball into his defender’s hands, he used the rim to create space and released the ball high. On Detroit’s next possession, Monroe, who finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, scored inside again.

Unfortunately, that would be the Pistons’ last points of the game. The Celtics’ defense clamped down, McGrady forced a 3-pointer and time ran too low to patiently look for quality shots or receive valid calls from the referees.*

*I don’t write about officiating often, and I’m not going to make a habit of it. But late in tonight’s game, Ben Gordon drove to the basket. Glen Davis rotated to help and initiated a lot of contact with his upper body while in the air. The referees didn’t call a foul. If this happened in the first three quarters, I wouldn’t be writing about it. But this didn’t happen in the first three quarters, and it wouldn’t have happened in the first three quarters.

Officials purposefully** let more fouls go late in close games.  This isn’t a gripe about this game, and it isn’t a gripe about the Pistons being mistreated. My complaint is with this continued practice. It’s fair in that everyone understands how it will work. But that doesn’t make for good basketball. This isn’t putting the game in the hands of the players. Drawing a foul is a perfectly valid skill in basketball. Defending without fouling is a perfectly valid skill in basketball. Both – and the rulebook, which as far as I know, doesn’t provide different definitions for fouls depending on the time and score of the game – are being ignored.

The NBA should fix this problem.

**If it’s not done purposefully, the quality of officiating somehow randomly declines near the end of close games.

Despite any disappointment about blowing a fourth-quarter lead or any ill-feeling toward the referees, tonight was another positive step for Detroit.

Games like this are why the Pistons aren’t tanking to secure better lottery odds. Whether it’s Villanueva learning how to bring intensity on defense, Monroe learning how to compete in hostile environments or Kuester learning how to match wits with the league’s best coaches, games like this matter in the long run.

The Pistons shouldn’t hang their heads tonight.

The Celtics didn’t expect to need playoff intensity against Detroit, but they did. That’s a moral victory, and for a Pistons team that’s finally playing hard, I’m willing to count moral victories.

8 Comments

  • Jan 20, 20114:19 am
    by Nick

    Reply

    You misspelled Boston, man.

  • Jan 20, 20115:50 am
    by jack

    Reply

    I  was  mystafied  that  Stuckey  was  switched  to  the  1  spot   again  or  the  last  3  minutes. That  forced  Tmac  into  a  jumpshooter  and  Stuckey  was  forcing  things  again  meaning  the  offense  was utter  rubbish. I  thought  Tmac  was fouled  late  in  the  game  but  that  dosent  hide  the  fact  he  was  terrible  in  the  second  half.

  • Jan 20, 20117:48 am
    by Steve

    Reply

    I also didn’t understand why Kuester benched Gordon once he finally found his rhythm. Boston immediately went on a 7-1 run to tie the game, as the Pistons offense went cold.
    I’m not saying that Gordon was the difference between winning or losing… it just struck me as weird that Kuester would ignore the hot hand.

  • Jan 20, 20118:38 am
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    Stuckey got screwed by the refs on two offensive foul calls – Davis had his foot on the circle line on the first – Stuckey also had a great look to tie the game but found himself too open in the lane and just missed the shot.

    The real problem was with the second team. Ben Gordon and Will Bynum did not play team ball. Bynum’s decision making is atrocious and Gordon just jacks shots and makes turnovers. The coaching staff should make Austin Daye the focus of that second team. He is the most intelligent player on that second team, basketball IQ wise and i would rather have the ball in his hands than in the hands of Will Bynum.

  • Jan 20, 201111:51 am
    by jk281

    Reply

    Pistons played and coached a great game, but for a few mistakes at the end, they could’ve won.

    Still, it was great experience for them, and you never know, if they sneak in  as the 8th seed, Boston could be their 1st round matchup. So this game could go a long way in making that at least a competitive and interesting series.

    The few mistakes I thought were:

    1) Even though they stumbled into a hack-a-shaq accidentally, they should’ve kept at it as long as they could. It would;ve saved them at least a point or two, that could’ve been the difference.

    2) I would’ve liked to see at least one of the T-Mac shots at the end go to someone else like Monroe or Tayshaun.

    3) Looking back, Wilcox probably should’ve been in over CV, but at the time I was 50-50 on that one so I cant complain.

    4) I would’ve liked to see Stuckey dump that shot off to Monroe, Stuckey hadn’t made a FG yet in the 2nd half, and probably shouldn’t have taken that shot. Daye could’ve also been in at the end when they needed a 3, at least as an extra decoy to confuse the defense.

    That sounds like more than a ‘few’ mistakes, but really they all happened within a few minutes and otherwise played a great game, and I cant fault an inexperienced team for making a few mistakes in crunch time in a hostile environment against the best team in the East.

    btw, props to Laser for siggesting all those cross-matches last before the game last night. According to Pierce, it really gave them trouble, and if nothing else may have exposed a weakness in the vaunted Celtics defense for the future if they meet again in the playoffs.

    I remember it was cross-matches against the Spurs with Bowen switching on Rip/Chauncey that put a dent in the Pistons that really caused the Pistons problems in ’05.

    I dont think we could win a 7 game series against Boston, but for whatever reason I like how we match up with them.

  • Jan 20, 20111:28 pm
    by Fennis

    Reply

    Props to Kuester for the Hack-a-Shaq. I didn’t expect it, he used it sparingly to throw the Celts off their game and I think it worked.
    Speaking of the 19-7 run, I couldn’t believe the Kue left Monroe on the bench until around 3:30. He’s your best big, best rebounder, best interior defender in a game against one of the biggest teams in the league. How does sit for most of the 4th with the game on the line? And why does Charlie V play crunch time over Wilcox? While I might agree that CV had a good game, you go with rebounding and defense in crunch time. CV is less reliable than Monroe and Wilcox in both respects.
     
     

  • Jan 21, 20118:19 am
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    props to Q????? that was an accidental hack-a-shaq. The reality is the Pistons should have done that on every possession Shaq was in the game during the stretch of the 4th. Would have saved a couple key baskets.

    But Q was too dumb to make such a simple call. Foul the 45% free throw shooter

  • Jan 24, 20112:35 am
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    Nick, maybe I was trying to make a point about the Celtics’ lack of offense. No? OK. Thanks for the heads up.

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