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PISTONS 78, CELTICS 68

By many measures, Celtics hit low point

Paul Pierce left the court three seconds before the final buzzer, cursing as he passed the Celtics bench, adding his invective to that voiced by the FleetCenter fans. In his words, he was ``frustrated,'' ``disappointed,'' and ``embarrassed'' by his team's worst offensive performance of the season.

Shooting a season-low 29.3 percent from the floor, the Celtics never had a chance against the Pistons, despite rallying from a 14-point deficit and tying the game in the fourth quarter. Boston (17-19) recorded more season lows on offense (4) than points over the final eight minutes (3) of this 78-68 loss.

The Celtics also recorded season lows for points in a game, points in a half (30 in the second half), and field goals (24). And in something of a throwback to last season, they attempted a season-high 34 3-pointers and failed to score on the fast break. Boston also allowed an unusually high 44 points in the paint.

Such a poor performance is never easy to accept, but the fact that it occurred at home made it all the more difficult for Pierce. The Celtics dropped to 8-11 at home and have two more games at the FleetCenter before they head back onto the road, where they boast a better-than-.500 record.

``I'm very disappointed,'' said Pierce (27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists). ``It's to the point where I'm pretty much embarrassed by the way we play at home. I told the guys before the game that we've got to play with the same focus and the same intensity as we do on the road.

``It doesn't make sense that we're a better road team than home team. This is where we should be our most comfortable and have our most pride. Other teams come into our living room and they're just smacking us around now. They're coming into our house and doing whatever they want with us.

``It has to mean more to us. We have to develop a sense of pride at home and we haven't done that all year.''

While losing at home has been a season-long trend, the no-show offense was a new development. For much of the game, the Celtics moved the ball well, reversing it with crisp passes around the perimeter, and finding the open man. But when given open shots, their most consistent shooters usually found the back rim, if they were lucky. Walter McCarty (3 for 14, including 3 for 12 from 3-point range) struggled. Jiri Welsch (1 for 8) struggled. Mike James (2 for 12) struggled. Pierce (10 for 25, including 4 for 12 from 3-point range) struggled.

``There were a lot of looks I would take any given night,'' said Pierce. ``I can see every shot in my head right now. They just didn't fall for us.''

With the exception of the 20-6 run Boston used to tie the score, 65-65, with 8 minutes 4 seconds remaining, Pierce was right. The Celtics emerged from their scoring woes just long enough to provide hope of another late comeback. Ricky Davis started the run with a 3-pointer. Pierce kept the momentum going as the fourth quarter got under way with a 3-pointer and a 17-footer. James hit a 3-pointer for his first field goal of the night with 8:21 to play, prompting an ever-so-slight smile from Jim O'Brien. Then Pierce nailed a 17-footer to even the score.

But the offense was essentially tapped out after tying the game. Detroit closed the game with a 13-3 run as Boston committed five turnovers down the stretch. Tayshaun Prince scored 7 of his 13 points during the decisive run, while Mehmet Okur added a 19-footer, Richard Hamilton (15 points) drained a 16-footer, and Ben Wallace put in a layup.

``We made a run and they countered our run and that's it,'' said James. ``Our defense was good enough to win. We just didn't shoot the ball well enough to win. But it's frustrating to just lose, period. It's disappointing to ourselves and to our fans.

``I just hope that they continue to stay with us because we know that we're going to turn this around. It just doesn't look good right now.''

That said, the FleetCenter crowd of 13,015 booed the Celtics as they left the floor trailing, 42-38, at halftime.

``This is our job to come out here and be ready mentally and physically,'' said Pierce. ``I'm not looking for any excuses. We just didn't finish the ballgame tonight.

``I guess it gets tough on guys when they're not knocking down shots. That's something I never worry about. We seemed to be dragging when shots continually don't fall when you're wide open. It takes a little spunk out of your team, when you're so close and you can't get over the top.''

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