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PISTONS 110, CELTICS 104

Celtics are not world-beaters

There was good news and bad news for the Celtics last night at the FleetCenter.

The bad news was they were beaten by the defending world champion Detroit Pistons, 110-104, in front of a sold-out house (18,624).

The Pistons were the lords of the boards, outrebounding the Celtics, 40-29, including a 16-6 advantage in offensive rebounds.

The good news was the Celtics shot 59 percent from the floor and except for a nearly three-minute lapse at the end of the first half, played the Pistons even.

"I don't know if I've ever been in a game, as a coach or a player, where we shot 59 percent and didn't win the game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "That's really hard to do."

Detroit, led by former University of Connecticut All-American Richard Hamilton, who scored 25 points, and ex-Celtic Chauncey Billups, who tossed in 22, used a 12-2 run to break open a close game, and never trailed after that.

Paul Pierce (22 points), Ricky Davis (19), and Gary Payton (17) paced the Celtics, who played Detroit even for the opening 21 minutes 19 seconds. To that point, there were 18 lead changes and 14 ties.

The 12-2 run consisted of a free throw by Hamilton, a nifty alley-oop from Tayshaun Prince to Antonio McDyess, as well as a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws from Prince.

"I thought we were beat by a better team," said Rivers. "The offensive rebounds just destroyed us."

Rivers tried every combination he could think of. "They hurt us when we had our big unit in," he said. "And they hurt us when we had a small unit in."

Pistons coach Larry Brown said, "They went small and then it seemed like Tayshaun and Rasheed [Wallace] kept a lot of balls alive. That helped us because Doc plays small, and dribble penetration hurt us late. I didn't know if I wanted to extend the defense for small people, but give them credit."

"They went small and tried to apply some pressure, so the way we countered that, we got to the offensive boards. Any time you can get the boards it is worth 24 more seconds," said Ben Wallace. "It takes some energy away from them."

The Celtics narrowed their 10-point halftime deficit to 1, at 97-96 with 3:13 to play, when Jiri Welsch drove for a layup. But that was as close as the Celtics would get. After a timeout, Rasheed Wallace connected on a 16-footer, then blocked an Al Jefferson shot. Billups followed with a 22-foot jumper to increase the lead to 5.

"I felt like we were playing like we didn't want it," said Jefferson. "Toward the end we started playing together. At the end we missed some big shots. But we need to come out like that all the time, just ready to play."

"I thought our guys were working," said Rivers. "But we have to be scrappier because that was the difference in the game."

That and offensive rebounds. "Would we have won the game if they didn't get those offensive rebounds? Maybe," said Rivers. "At least we would have a chance. It's a killer when you play defense for 24 seconds and you give them another shot."

But Rivers will continue to look at the big picture. "I'm not getting crazy about it," he said, "but when you play at home, you should win. I don't care who the team is. That's a belief I'm going to keep here. We've got to get our guys to see that."

But the Pistons were coming off a humiliating loss the night before at home to Memphis.

"Tonight, we came in focused after an ugly night," said Billups. "It didn't matter who it was. We were focused and wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouth."

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