THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

Series will be a grind all the way

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 21, 2008

Nine down and seven to go.

When you come right down to it, that's the only relevant issue. The Boston Celtics once needed 16 W's in order to put up championship banner No. 17, and after defeating the Detroit Pistons by an 88-79 score at TD Banknorth Garden last night, they now only need seven.

It was bump-and-grind basketball for sure last night, and, like, that's a surprise? With the one brief exception of that Kelly Tripucka-John Long-Terry Tyler bunch, the Pistons have never been much for style points, and that goes all the way back to the days of Joe Strawder and Eddie Miles, and never mind McFilthy and McNasty and all that stuff from the late '80s. Somewhere in the Detroit Pistons team charter there must be a line that says, "Thou shalt grindeth out thy victories."

The team is named after an auto part, you know.

Playing the Pistons is a physical grind and a mental grind. They never allow you to feel safe. Never. The Celtics controlled this game from the beginning, even if it never really felt like it. Boston moved to an 8-0 lead in the first 2:24, and the Pistons would lead only twice (13-12 and 42-41) for a combined total of 31 seconds.

An Eddie House 3-pointer on a Ray Allen feed with 1.2 seconds remaining in the third period sent them into the fourth period leading by 12 (69-57), and the big crisis in the fourth period came when the lead was down to 6 (79-73) with four minutes to go.

So why did it feel so tense? Because it's the Detroit Pistons, that's why. These guys won it all in 2004 and they are playing in their sixth consecutive Eastern Conference finals. Only a very frivolous or foolish team would ever allow itself to get comfortable against the Detroit Pistons.

"There are two teams like that," confirmed Doc Rivers. "San Antonio and Detroit. We've all seen it. We've all seen them come back too many times.

"There were two minutes left, we're up 10 and we had the ball, and I was completely worried. They're capable of making threes, they're smart, there are the little things.

"Chauncey [Billups] came off a pick-and-roll early in the clock and threw his body into KG, got a foul. They know how to work the clock. Get a quick foul, make the two free throws. They're just a smart basketball team. That's what we have to deal with."

Each team had a major concern coming into this game. The Celtics were coming off a tough seventh game against the Cavaliers just two days before. This was their 11th playoff game in 22 days.

"We were coming off an emotional Game 7 and I thought the energy we came in with was fantastic," Rivers declared.

"Actually," said Paul Pierce, "I came in here feeling pretty good."

The Pistons had not played in a week. That always leads to a strenuous pregame debate: Will they be well-rested or will they be rusty? Coach Flip Saunders seemed to lean toward the latter.

"We just couldn't seem to get into the flow," said the Detroit mentor. "They may have had something to do with it. Defensively, we were a step slow in our rotations."

Pierce maintained that his team had the proper mental approach, no question.

"You've got Detroit coming in well-rested," he said. "This was a perfect game for them to come in and try to steal one, and we were aware of that.

"They probably figured we were tired from that last series, while they've been practicing, and we just came out with extra focus and extra energy at the start of the game because we knew they would try to come out and try to get the first game."

The Celtics got 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting from Kevin Garnett, a noted Detroit nemesis, 22 from Pierce, and an extremely helpful and timely 11 from Rajon Rondo, who buried a long two and a dagger of an open three as Boston was trying to tie the fourth-quarter ribbon on this first-game package. They also had the exemplary total of 27 assists on 36 baskets, which means the ball was hopping.

But it was almost a case of which one you were going to believe, the stat sheet or your lying eyes. It sure didn't look pretty, especially in the first half when the non-Garnett portion of the Boston offense appeared to consist of someone driving to the basket, leaving his feet and then attempting to find someone to pass to. Were these guys trying to send Bob Cousy, undoubtedly watching on a nice flat screen somewhere, to an early grave? There is nothing more unsightly to The Cooz than the sight of someone leaving his feet to make a pass.

End of rant. And let the record show that Doc doesn't care. Those passes did find open men and those recipients did make shots.

Garnett and Pierce are givens. The Pistons don't expect to stop them. Ray Allen continues to stop himself (he made two layups and a fast-break dunk, but, again, no jump shots). But those Rondo baskets were very painful, and it's not as if the Pistons are praying he will take them.

"No, because I think he can make them," said Saunders. "You can't give him too many 'dare' shots, as I'd call it. When he's made shots, they've been successful."

We've got to give Chauncey Billups the benefit of the doubt, no? He was playing his first game since messing up a hamstring. The Kid outplayed him, and the Pistons just can't have that happen every night if they're going to win.

Now, Doc doesn't want to hear this kind of talk, nor does he want Rondo to hear it.

"I told him before the game, 'Stop worrying about them; make them worry about you. You're a hell of a basketball player.' So it's very important that he keeps that confidence and stays aggressive."

Anyway, take note that in addition to his box score contributions (11 points, 7 assists, 5 steals), Rajon Rondo controlled the tempo when he was in there. He had an enormous defensive presence and he had only one turnover in 40 minutes. It was very noticeable when he was sitting on the bench. Things just weren't the same.

It's done. It's in the books. It's one less game the Boston Celtics have to win. But it's only one game in this series, and I checked, and, yes, the Detroit Pistons are planning on showing up for Game 2 tomorrow night. The Celtics would be wise to get their rest.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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