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Friday, May 23, 2008

Hamilton Scores 25 as Pistons Earn Split

Richard Hamilton (25 points) and Chauncey Billups (19 points, seven assists) led a well-balanced attack as Detroit beat Boston 103-97, handing the Celtics their first home loss in this year's playoffs. The Pistons played very efficiently on offense, shooting 35-71 (.493) from the field, converting 28 of 32 free throw attempts (.875) and passing for 21 assists while only committing nine turnovers. Although Boston won the rebounding battle 39-31, Detroit grabbed several key offensive boards down the stretch and that helped the Pistons to preserve their lead. All five Detroit starters played at least 32 minutes and scored at least 13 points. The one reserve player from either team who had a significant impact was Rodney Stuckey, who had 13 points and three assists while backing up Billups. Stuckey shot 5-8 from the field and the Pistons actually ran plays for him in the fourth quarter, showing a lot of confidence in the rookie point guard.

The one big positive for Boston is that Ray Allen returned to form: he scored 25 points on 9-16 shooting and looked like the sharpshooter that he has been for his whole career minus the past month or so. As this series progresses, that could prove to be the most important development from game two. Paul Pierce continued to play well (26 points on 9-16 shooting, five assists), while Kevin Garnett had 24 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Rajon Rondo was all over the map: he nearly had a triple double (10 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) but he shot just 2-9 from the field, he seemed uncertain at times whether he should shoot or pass and he made some defensive gaffes.

What impressed me the most about the Celtics during the regular season is how hard they played on a nightly basis, particularly on defense. A little bit of that edge seemed to be missing in this game but more than effort I thought that Boston lacked efficiency and intelligence; during the telecast, Jeff Van Gundy repeatedly singled out the stupid fouls that the Celtics committed that just handed Detroit free points during stretches when the Pistons were not shooting well from the field. At one point, Van Gundy called Boston's defensive performance "substandard" and he said, "The Celtics have to be more disciplined with the Pistons' shot fakes." It seemed like every time a Detroit player pump faked he drew a foul. Detroit made six more free throws than Boston and won by six points. Another example of the Celtics' lack of concentration is that they allowed Billups to score an uncontested layup off of an inbounds pass with :18 remaining in a three point game.

We are sure to hear a lot of "the sky is falling" rhetoric about the Celtics until game three is played: the Celtics have not won a road game in this year's playoffs, the "Big Three" of Garnett, Pierce and Allen played great but the Celtics still lost, the Pistons seem to have a deeper bench, the Pistons have more collective playoff experience. All of those things are true but Boston is still going to win this series. The Pistons have now won nine straight game twos, the second longest such streak in NBA playoff history, and that is why I said in my game one recap that I would not be surprised if the Pistons won game two of this series; by the same token, I expect the Celtics to reciprocate with a road win of their own, probably in game three. For several years the Pistons have had a tendency to rise to the occasion when they think that their backs are up against the wall only to be curiously flat and lackadaisical once they seem to have control of a series. Some people get a little bit too caught up in overanalyzing what one or two players did in a given game and trying to derive some grand meaning from this for subsequent games; that is what leads to the train of thought that if Boston's All-Star trio scored 75 points at home and the Celtics still lost then they won't be able to win in Detroit. Every playoff game has a storyline of its own; some players are going to play better than they did in game two and some are going to play worse, so you cannot just cut and paste certain numbers from game two into a projected game three boxscore. Anyway, the important numbers to consider in this series (and in most series) are defensive field goal percentage, rebounding and points in the paint. The Celtics had some major slippage in defensive field goal percentage and that--plus the excessive fouling--is what cost them this game. Boston outrebounded Detroit and outscored Detroit 36-24 in the paint. Assuming that the Celtics regain their defensive edge while maintaining their scoring and rebounding advantages in the paint, Boston will soon regain home court advantage in this series.

It is worth remembering that the Celtics had the best road record in the NBA this season and that the Pistons lost a road playoff game to Philadelphia, won a playoff game in Orlando with the help of a Billups three pointer that should not have counted and won another playoff game in Orlando by just one point. If the Pistons simply win this series in routine fashion after obtaining home court advantage that would be out of character for the way that they have performed in the postseason in recent years.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:00 AM

5 comments

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5 Comments:

At Friday, May 23, 2008 9:00:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We'll see how this goes down, but I suspect you'll be wrong about this series. Rondo has looked terrible and very uncertain on the road -- esp. in the Cleveland games where I got a close look at him. He seems to get intimidated and loses confidence. In short, he plays on the road exactly like he played last night: unsure whether to pass or shoot. He seems to feed off the energy of the Boston crowd, and without stating a cliche, I think it's true that role players & bench players wind up being far more effective at home than on the road because of things like confidence and crowd energy.

The Pistons deflated the crowd last night, and their all-star backcourt is also intimidating to young Rondo I think. I do not see him improving his game at the Palace.

Also, you often emphasize that pure #s alone do not tell the whole story, and one must examine particular plays. On that point, yes, the Celtics have been shooting the ball extremely well. But Garnett and Pierce have been taking and making an extraordinary amount of very difficult & contested shots. For the most part, on Pierce and KG's baskets, the Pistons really couldn't be playing any better defense (McDyess has forced KG to take a number of step-back jumpers and spinning js, and he's been on fire; similarly, Prince has forced Pierce into a lot of twisting, spinning and step-back js, and like in Game 7, PP has just been on fire). I expect the Pistons to continue contesting these shots and I do not expect Pierce to continue hitting his tough shots at a 9 for 16 clip.

 
At Friday, May 23, 2008 11:50:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

You make some reasonable points but I don't think that Rondo has to play great for the Celtics to win.

The shots that KG and Pierce are taking may look difficult--and I've never been overly fond of KG's propensity to take fallaway Js--but those are the shots that they normally take and make, so I don't think that their fg percentages are going to go down dramatically, though they obviously will vary from game to game like any other player's.

 
At Friday, May 23, 2008 1:25:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

It's about time for Pistons to break their playoffs pattern and beat Celtics in games 3 & 4. As you said, each game has its own story, and I think each playoffs too.
Anyway, your points are the most reasonable from what I've read.

 
At Friday, May 23, 2008 3:14:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, KG and Pierce frequently take shots like that (and make a decent percentage of them), but I have two points.

First, on the year KG and PP shot 53.9% and 46.4%, respectively. So far in the two games of this series these are their totals: KG is 22-36 or 61.1% and PP is 18-34 or 52.9%.
So they really are shooting a good deal above their average for the year -- a correction seems likely based simply on that.

My second point is that they have been shooting a blazing 61/53 % against a very solid and aggressive Pistons defense. Like I was saying: McDyess/Wallace and Prince have frequently contested KG and PP's shots very closely. On an astonishing number of their makes last night and in Game 1, the Detroit defense literally did nothing wrong: KG and PP simply took very difficult shots and drilled them. But the key is that KG and PP put up their season-long numbers of 54% and 46% against the rest of the NBA, and I sincerely doubt that KG and PP faced a similarly high level of defense in recording their significantly lower % numbers from the regular season. KG and PP are shooting ridiculously well (and well above their regular season clip) at the moment, and doing so against a kind of tight defense that I suspect they rarely saw in the regular season.

I would feel very confident in wagering that KG & PP will not shoot 61% and 53% over the next five games (if this series even goes that long: I think the Pistons take it in 6, and possibly 5 if they wind up getting a blow out or two in Michigan similar to the kinds of game that the Cavs played against the Celtics in Game 3).

Anyhow, thank you for your fantastic blog. I've really enjoyed reading your breakdown of each game.

 
At Friday, May 23, 2008 7:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree that it is unlikely that KG and Pierce will shoot quite as well the rest of the way as they have in the first two games but my point is that the shots that they are taking and making are normal shots for them. I still think that Boston will win the series based on the advantages that I listed in this post: defensive field goal percentage, rebounding and points in the paint. Of course, if Boston does not win these categories then I would expect Detroit to win. KG and Pierce's fg percentages in the first two games may be slight aberrations but it is also an aberration for Boston to foul so much and to allow a team to shoot as well as Detroit did in game two.

 

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