Celtics Stall Pistons, 92-85On Saturday, the Boston Celtics defeated the Detroit Pistons 92-85, ending Detroit's 11 game winning streak; the Celtics are now 29-3 and they own the NBA's longest active winning streak, nine games. Both teams were playing the second game of a back to back and their third game in four nights and that no doubt at least partially accounts for this contest's sloppiness: Boston shot 31-74 from the field (.419), while Detroit shot 31-79 (.392). While most of the name players from both squads shot blanks, rookie Glen Davis--who scored just 10 points in 28 minutes in the previous five games--led Boston with a game-high 20 points. Kevin Garnett had just 15 points, five rebounds and two assists, shooting 4-11 from the field; it must be noted, though, that Garnett easily had the best plus/minus score in the game (+23). Paul Pierce contributed 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists but he also had a poor shooting night (5-16). Ray Allen had a quiet game (nine points, 3-8 shooting). Point guard Rajon Rondo was awful, finishing with three points on 1-7 shooting and no assists; at least he did not have any turnovers. Richard Hamilton (18 points, eight assists) and Chauncey Billups (16 points, six assists) led the way for Detroit but they also shot poorly (6-16 and 4-12 respectively). Billups missed three out of four free throws in the final four minutes and unloaded an airball three pointer with plenty of time on the shot clock and Detroit only trailing 88-85 with :32 left in the game.
It is very important to understand that if these teams meet in the playoffs that it will not be under these conditions; teams have days off between postseason games and each team's coaching staff focuses all of its preparation on the current opponent, with no worries about having to travel and play a different team that poses special challenges stylistically or in terms of matchups. That is why it is sometimes misleading when fans point to regular season head to head records when trying to figure out what will happen in a playoff series. Every game matters but not every game is played under the same conditions that playoff games are played, so simply looking at boxscores or spreadsheets is never enough to really understand what is happening on the court.
A couple weeks ago, Detroit earned a come from behind road win against Boston that highlighted some of the question marks about the Celtics, namely the point guard situation, the Celtics' ability to execute down the stretch in close games and Kevin Garnett's tendency to disappear in late game situations. One game can neither completely validate nor complete refute such concerns but there is no doubt that this is a big win for the Celtics and that this team is exceeding even the wildest expectations that Boston fans could have had prior to the season.
With most of the Eastern Conference mired in mediocrity--even the fast starting Orlando Magic are just 5-5 in their last 10 games--there is obviously a very real opportunity for either the Pistons to make it to the Finals for the first time since 2005 or for the Celtics to return to at least some of the franchise's former glory. Although I have pointed out the flaws of both of these teams in previous posts, looking at the East right now the only team that seems like it has the necessary parts to beat either the Celtics or the Pistons in a seven game series would be the Cleveland Cavaliers--not that Cleveland would win such a series if it were played now but by May the Cavaliers should be able to get back to playing the way that they did last year defensively and on the glass. The Magic are too inconsistent, the Raptors are too soft, the Nets don't have enough strength in the paint and the Wizards are a first round casualty at best.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:46 AM