Celtics-Pistons: Timely Defense and Poor Clutch Shooting Dooms Detroit

Max IasconeSenior Analyst IMay 31, 2008

After a third quarter during which the Pistons outscored the Celtics 31-20, everything seemed to be going against the Celtics.

The Pistons had the crowd going nuts, all of the momentum, and seemingly the officials on their side on the heels of what was quite possibly the worst call in NBA playoff history.

On a potential four point play from Paul Pierce, a ludicrous offensive foul call sapped what little momentum the Celtics had left in the third quarter. According to Bennett Salvatore, getting clotheslined while you shoot is in direct violation of the rules.

This game had all of the makings of a classic blowout.  The Pistons were firing on all cylinders, and the Celtics looked spent throughout the third quarter. Any competent observer would have concluded that Detroit would end up winning this game by at least 20, if not more.

But that was not to be. Tonight, the Celtics resiliently fought back in the face of incredible adversity to pull out a win that nobody thought they would get.

After trailing by as much as 10 during the third quarter, the Celtics started the fourth quarter with an amazing 19-4 run and held the Pistons to 33 percent shooting and 11 points for the quarter.

Paul Pierce dominated with 27 points and eight boards, and Garnett and Allen chipped in with 16 and 17 points respectively, but it was not the Big Three that won this game for the Celtics.

Timely defense from guys like James Posey, whose lockdown defense of the streaking Chauncy Billups, and great steal from Tayshaun Prince, who was not paying attention on the play, sealed the deal last night.

Kendrick Perkins was solid with seven points on 3-7 shooting, and two blocks, including one on Chauncy Billups on a drive to the hoop, killing the apparent momentum that Detroit had gained in cutting the Celtic lead to four late in the fourth quarter.

Surprisingly enough, even Rajon Rondo, who had been woeful at best during the first three quarters, rose to the occasion during the fourth, hitting a few clutch baskets to give the Celtics some breathing room.

Then again, Detroit had their opportunities. Two misses on wide open three-point shots from Billups and the struggling Tayshaun Prince quieted the crowd and emboldened the Celtics, who had been playing somewhat passive defense at that point.

Billups and Rip Hamilton, who had strained his right elbow during game five, combined for 50 points in the loss, but the mediocre effort from their teammates overshadowed the masterful play of the Pistons' backcourt.

Rasheed Wallace was especially poor. He had only four points on 2-12 shooting and nearly got called for a technical, not once, not twice, but three different times.

And of course, nobody could look at the struggles of Detroit's frontcourt without mentioning the immortal Tayshaun Prince, who scored 10 points on 3-10 shooting and had no answer for Paul Pierce.

Frankly, it's easy to rip on the Pistons for not rising to the occasion—just look at those last few sentences—but really they are the epitome of everything that a franchise should be.

They are a hard working, tight-knit group that just didn't have enough to stop the Celtics.

Yes, their reputation for mailing it in for a few games a month may precede them, but anyone watching that game could see that the Pistons left it all out on the floor during game six.

After the game, Rasheed Wallace said, "This is the end man." With this being the final year of his contract, his statement may just hold true in a variety of ways.

Detroit head coach Flip Saunders is also on the hot seat (wrongfully so in my opinion) for yet again failing to lead his team to the NBA finals.

With the exception of Tayshaun Prince, all of Detroit's starters are above the age of 30, and Wallace and Antonio McDyess are 33, so the window may be closing on one of the most consistently great franchises in sports today.

It really is a sad thing to see, but all great things must come to an end.

Detroit's current core of players is still talented enough to compete in the talent starved Eastern Conference but their best years are behind them.

So, barring an improbable trade or some savvy drafting from GM Joe Dumars, the best years of the Pistons are fading into the rear-view mirror. 

On the other end of the spectrum, things are looking good in Beantown, despite a shaky start to the playoffs during which the Celtics were winless on the road for their first two playoff series against Atlanta and Cleveland.

The Celtics had something to prove coming into this series, coming off of the aforementioned 0-6 road record. 

After managing to win two out of the three games played in Detroit during this series, that problem seems to be solved.