Celts celebrate as Pistons shrug
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Quite a scene it was, the one Boston Celtics forward James Posey was making as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"Thanks for coming," Posey yelled to the fans behind the visitors bench, using his loudest, most sing-songy voice.
"Adios! See ya," Posey said, mocking the Detroit Pistons' fans, pretending to wipe tears from his eyes. "What's the score?"
And to end it all, Posey threw in one more insult, intoning the "Deeeeee-troit basketball!" rally cry that Palace announcer John Mason has made his signature.
Happy with the win, James? Guess so.
"It was a nice win for us. We came back and returned the favor," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "Our guys are excited -- maybe a little too much, but that was a good win for our team."
Indeed it was for the Celtics, who overcame a 21-2 Pistons run in the first half by matching Detroit's early aggression and outexecuting their Eastern Conference rivals down the stretch for a 92-85 victory Saturday night. It snapped Detroit's 11-game winning streak and extended the Celtics' streak to nine in a row, improving their record to an incredible 29-3.
"We know we're not that good of a team. We have flaws, but we come in and work hard every day. Try to take this thing one game at a time, work on our weaknesses and better ourselves," Kevin Garnett said. "Really, man, I don't know our record. I don't even care. I care about how we play and how we play together on both ends, and I love how we are as a team -- how we've meshed."
The mesh man of the night was rookie Glen "Big Baby" Davis, whose energy was infectious. Davis came off the bench for a career-high 20 points and slowed down Rasheed Wallace defensively by keeping him off the low block. Davis also scored the night's biggest basket, a layup underneath off a feed from Paul Pierce with 8.5 seconds left to increase the lead from three to five and seal the win, setting off Posey's mockfest.
Chauncey Billups did a little mocking of his own afterward in the Pistons' locker room, opining that the Celtics had celebrated like they had won the Super Bowl. There had been no such shenanigans from the Pistons three weeks ago in Boston when they knocked off the Celtics in the first "measuring stick" game of the season between these teams. And it will be a surprise if the Pistons do not use Saturday night's celebration as motivation when the teams meet for the third and final time of the regular season, March 5 in Boston.
Billups was the hero of the first game, pump-faking Tony Allen off his feet to draw a foul with 0.1 seconds left, then making the clinching free throws as Detroit defeated Boston 87-85 on Dec. 19.
But Billups was nowhere near as clutch this time around, missing three of four free throws in the final 3:57, then making the biggest bonehead play of the night when an offensive rebound was tipped out to him after he missed the second of two free throws with 46.9 seconds left, leaving the Pistons trailing 88-85.
Billups set up outside the 3-point line and waited for Antonio McDyess to come out high and set a pick -- a pick that never came. After dribbling 10 seconds off the shot clock, Billups unexpectedly let fly with a long 3-pointer that missed everything and sailed out of bounds.
"Paul was playing like 3 feet off me, and I had a great, great look, but the ball just came off the right side of my hand," Billups said, adding that he had no regrets about taking that shot.
"I know I was 3 feet off him, but I was standing on the 3-point line. He was 3 feet behind it," Pierce said. "Chauncey hits shots like that on a lot of given nights, but tonight, it wasn't there."
The nonchalance with which the Pistons absorbed the loss is typical of them, and to their credit, they are not going to get overly high or low over any game in January, be it against the worst team in the league or the best.
But the Pistons' nonchalance has been one of their worst faults over the past several seasons, their lack of a killer instinct having kept them from being an even stronger force than they have been throughout the better part of this decade. In this game, for instance, the Pistons were outscored 26-0 in the paint in the second half, after getting inside repeatedly in the first half.
They are never going to admit to being shaken or humbled by a loss -- heck, they even shrugged off the game of LeBron James' career last June when they fell behind the Cavs 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals. But you wonder how much this one is going to eat at them and what it will bring out of them two months down the road when these teams meet for the final time in the regular season.
At some point, the Pistons cannot be simply satisfied with being a long-term fixture atop the East.
At some point, they have to take some regular-season games more seriously than others, if only to keep the new kid on the block from building the type of confidence that can make all the difference at the end of a crucial game -- especially a playoff game.
This one wasn't crucial, but who was more confident at the end? Was it Billups, who missed those free throws and airballed that ill-advised 3? Or was it Pierce, who shook off Richard Hamilton at midcourt, drove to his left, split two defenders and fed the ball to Davis under the basket for the game-clincher?
It's games like this and finishes like this that turn good teams into great teams. And although Garnett came out and claimed afterward that the Celtics "are not that good of a team," everyone can see the truth is something different.
The Pistons and their fans saw it firsthand Saturday night, and those within earshot of Posey heard about it, too.
Will any of that matter in May and June?
Probably not a lot, but it'd be a mistake to call this one meaningless. It sure meant a lot to the Celtics, and maybe it should have meant more to the Pistons.
For now, we'll just put it down the same way we did the first one -- as a measuring stick game. The difference, though, is that the Celtics now measure up.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.