I watched a good deal of the Celtics-Pistons game last night and, while I could never stand the 1980s Pistons and their admixture of excellent basketball and excellent thuggery, the Pistons of the last several years are a team to respect and admire. They’re tough, they boast a talented, balanced, and well-rounded starting five, a decent bench, and play with a lot of heart. It remains to be seen if they’ll rue the lack of home-court in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, this is a team that is giving Boston everything it can handle, playing ahead the whole way and ultimately pulling away in a 94-75 Game Four win. Ailing Chauncey Billups was really impressive, playing very aggressively on both ends of the floor and with a markedly improved bounce in his step. Rip Hamilton poured in 20, but to me the real key was the stellar play of Antonio McDyess, who put up 21 points and was a glass-eater with 16 boards, 7 on the offensive rim. The guy scored early and often, pulling Perkins and at times Garnett away from the basket as he sank several smooth outside shots. Rasheed Wallace was huge defensively, blocking five shots and reminding people why he’s one of the very best players in the game, whether or not he fills up a stat sheet. Wallace is a difference-maker.
The Celtics turned the ball over five times in the first six minutes of the first quarter as the Pistons blitzed them, and they could never get out of that hole. They cut the lead to four at halftime, but couldn’t push ahead. More importantly, the Pistons contested every shot in the half-court set, really disrupting the Celtics’ offense and preventing them from gaining offensive flow or scoring many easy baskets. They shot only 32% from the field, directly attributable to how well and how hard the Pistons played on defense. Although the Celtics can fall back on having regained home court with their win Saturday night–no small accomplishment given their opponent and how important home court has been in this playoff season–The Pistons have proven a couple things against Boston: they can win in Boston, and they can bounce back with a desperate effort to outplay and out-hustle a very good defensive team in Boston. Yesterday’s win had some important aspects, such as good, high-percentage shooting from Detroit. But the most important ones–strong, aggressive defense, attacking the glass, challenging shots, all-out hustle–are Boston trademarks that, at least last night, were hallmarks of a crucial Pistons victory.
Three more games in the series to go, two in Boston. Count on seeing three more tough, hotly contested games.