No NBA team, the Celtics included, was stingier defensively in the regular season than the Pistons. Even so, Kevin Garnett found a recipe for success against Detroit that worked back then and has worked so far in the postseason, too.
Garnett averaged a team-best 24 points per game - 5.2 more than his overall average - against Detroit this season. He continued his offensive prowess against the Pistons last night, scoring 26 points during the Celtics' 88-79 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals at TD Banknorth Garden.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is back here tomorrow night.
"I'm just playing aggressive, man," said Garnett, who made 11 of 17 field goal attempts and had 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks. "I try not to think, try not to react, and be aggressive."
The Celtics are now 9-0 at home during the postseason. They last lost a home game March 24 against Philadelphia. Since then, they have won 15 straight.
"They haven't lost a game; they should be confident," said Pistons guard Chauncey Billups, who struggled with 9 points and 2 assists. "They have been very good at home. We usually are a really good team. We didn't have a good game today, but we look forward to Thursday."
The Celtics were playing their 13th game since April 26. The Pistons were playing their first in a week. So one big question entering Game 1 was: What was more beneficial, the Celtics' rhythm or the Pistons' rest? After Boston's victory, rhythm seemed like the early winner in that debate.
"I like the rhythm of every other day, and I've been saying that for a while," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "A lot of people talked about fatigue. Obviously, we would rather not have gone through 14 games. But I still think it's helped us, I really do."
Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince, who scored a team-high 16 points, said, "As far as the long layoff, you never know what's best. You can't blame that."
Two days after scoring 41 points in a Game 7 win over Cleveland, Paul Pierce scored 22 points and added 6 rebounds and 6 assists. During Sunday's win, Garnett said, he got out of the way and let Pierce go offensively. And last night, it was vice versa, as Pierce made way.
"We wanted to establish Kevin," Pierce said. "We know the success he's had against Detroit. We feel like Kevin has an advantage almost every night, especially on the one-on-one or on the block, on the wing, so we try to get him the ball and establish that."
Garnett scored a team-high 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting as Boston managed a slim 41-40 halftime lead. The Celtics shot 51.4 percent from the field and scored 26 points in the paint in the half. The Pistons shot only 38.7 percent but stayed close by making 14 free throws to Boston's 3.
"[Garnett] just got aggressive," said Detroit coach Flip Saunders, who coached Garnett in Minnesota. "Got in situations, pick-and-pop situations, knocking down the 17-footer. He played well. KG is one of those that if he gets off to a good start and hits the first two or three jumpers, he can get it rolling."
"He was very aggressive attacking the paint tonight," said Rivers. "He was going in the paint more than going away from the paint."
The Celtics opened the third quarter with a 19-10 run to take a 60-50 lead after a turnaround jumper from Pierce. Boston finished the third with a 69-57 lead after outscoring Detroit, 28-17, in the quarter. Garnett and Pierce combined for 17 points, 11 on free throws.
A 19-foot jumper by Detroit rookie Rodney Stuckey sliced Boston's lead to 75-69 with 5:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Celtics stayed poised, responding with an 11-6 run, finalized by a 3-pointer by Rajon Rondo (11 points, 7 assists, 5 steals), to go back ahead, 86-75, with 1:47 remaining.
"[The Pistons] have been through so many games," Rivers said. "They've come back so many times and we've all seen that. You can't let your guard down. There was two minutes left, we're up 10 and had the ball, and I was completely worried."
Overall, the Pistons were limited to 42.4 percent shooting from the field and missed 7 of 11 3-point attempts. Boston shot 52.2 percent and had 44 points in the paint.
"Some nights we make it look easy, some nights we look like garbage," Garnett said.
With Garnett leading way, the first chapter of the Eastern finals looked easy to the Celtics.