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PISTONS 115, CELTICS 100

It's another chemistry lesson

Pistons show Celtics how it's done in comeback victory

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Once again, the Celtics proved they could play with the Pistons. But not for an entire game.

A first half filled with promise, hustle, effective ball movement, and easy baskets for Boston gave way to a second half marked by frustration, a broken-down offense, and certain individuals trying to save the team by themselves. Good execution turned into good intentions run amok.

Detroit, as championship-caliber teams do, stayed composed and confident. When the right time came, the Pistons were ready, with Chauncey Billups assuming the role of demoralizing sharpshooter usually reserved for Richard Hamilton.

The Pistons' 115-100 win and 7-0 record are testament to what happens when a team stays together and builds chemistry over a matter of years, not weeks. In fact, it was Ben Wallace who told relative newcomer coach Flip Saunders ''don't worry" when Detroit trailed by 12 points in the second quarter and 13 early in the third.

Wallace knew the Pistons were capable of rattling the Celtics with a single run and riding the emotion inside a sold-out Palace of Auburn Hills to a comeback victory. But he probably did not expect Detroit to dominate the way it did in the second half, outscoring Boston, 67-42.

The Celtics' fourth loss of the season was a reminder of how much they have to improve, especially when it comes to keeping their poise in the fourth quarter. Despite defeating New York in overtime in the season opener and beating Memphis at the buzzer, the Celtics have struggled with execution at the end of close games. They lack the trust and experience that makes Detroit so successful.

''It's a great lesson for us," said coach Doc Rivers. ''We can play with this team. We've proved that. But they've been through so much in the past three years, they can't be shaken. We've been together for one month and things shake us."

Rivers & Co. seemingly have spent the first two weeks of the season stockpiling great lessons. No telling when they will be comfortable enough with each other to call on those reserves and play a game with consistency from start to finish.

Last night, Billups served as the primary teacher, igniting a 14-4 run in the third quarter from which the Celtics' psyche never recovered. A 13-point Boston advantage turned into a 3-point lead (69-66).

Billups scored 17 of his 25 points in the third, including the Pistons' final 11. He benefitted greatly from Delonte West picking up his fourth foul and Rivers turning to Dan Dickau as a replacement. It is no secret that Dickau struggles defensively, and he was in a tough position guarding an increasingly hot shooter. Late in the third, Ricky Davis guarded Billups, but to no avail.

Although the Celtics entered the fourth ahead, 81-77, after Pierce hit a 3-pointer and tried to convince his teammates they were ''all right," they were obviously rattled, not focused on what they needed to do to stay ahead. Detroit opened the quarter with a 7-0 run, taking the lead, 82-81, for the first time since the opening period on a 16-footer by Carlos Arroyo with 10:09 left.

As the Celtics racked up turnovers, the Pistons stretched their lead methodically. They stepped up the intensity on defense and outscored the Celtics, 8-0, on the break. Rasheed Wallace took his turn to lead on offense as Detroit shot 65 percent in the final period.

''It's definitely a plus that that starting five has been together for the last 2 1/2 years," said Wallace. ''We know each other's tendencies as far as offense and defense."

In the first half, the Celtics looked like group of players familiar with each other's tendencies. Boston moved the ball unselfishly and earned easy baskets as a result, zipping passes inside to Mark Blount, Al Jefferson, Pierce, and Davis. The Celtics did not neglect the attack from outside, either, finding the open man for jumpers. Boston shot 67 percent and took a 58-48 lead into halftime.

Although Boston stretched its advantage 9 (19-10) when Davis found Raef LaFrentz for a 3-pointer, the Green really seemed to take control with Davis and the second unit on the floor. There was no stopping Jefferson inside. And no stopping Davis from anywhere as he scored 22 of his game-high 31 points in the first half.

There was a relentlessness in the Celtics' play that showed just how much they wanted to avenge a last-second home loss to the Pistons Nov. 4. Players dived for loose balls and hustled back on defense.

But the Pistons did not panic; they simply stepped up their game in the second half.

''There ain't nothing to worry about, because you're going to win some and you're going to lose some," said Ben Wallace.

When asked if the Pistons would lose some, Wallace added, ''It's yet to be seen."

By the looks of things last night, it may be some time before it is.

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