Before the season, the biggest question about the rebuilt Celtics was whether they had enough in reserve - or, more accurately, reserves - to be a championship-caliber team.
The Boston bench proved its mettle during a 66-win regular season and helped put the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals with a 23-point performance in Game 7 of the Cleveland series. But last night, the Big Three could have sued the bench for lack of support in the Celtics' 103-97 loss to the Pistons at TD Banknorth Garden. While Kevin Garnett (24), Ray Allen (25), and Paul Pierce (26) combined for 75 points, the Celtics' bench had just 8 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
That's one reason the Celtics suffered their first home loss of the playoffs and head to Detroit tied, 1-1. Further highlighting the ineffectiveness of the Boston bench was a spectacular performance by Detroit rookie Rodney Stuckey, who came off the Pistons' pine to score 13.
"Tonight, I think their bench outplayed us," said Celtics backup point guard Eddie House, who was scoreless in seven minutes. "Hats off to their bench. I think I pretty much laid an egg. I have to get back in Game 3 and try to stifle what they did. Stuckey played big for them tonight, and that's what happens."
Truth be told, the Pistons' bench got scoring from only two players, Stuckey and Lindsey Hunter, who chipped in with 4 points. But they were still able to more than double the Boston bench brigade's output.
"They're going to have their good days and their bad days, but by no means was that the difference in the game," said Pierce. "I don't think their bench played that well outside of Stuckey, so that's all right. We're going to have guys that are going to step up at different times throughout the series, but it's not a big concern for us."
After three quarters, the Boston bench had a total of 4 points and one basket, a James Posey 3-pointer in the first half. The Big Three had 53 of Boston's 69 points. That basket was the only make from the bench until P.J. Brown, who led the reserves with 4 points, nailed a jumper with 7:44 left in the fourth.
That's not good enough against a team like Detroit. The bench is capable of better. It came up big in Game 7 against the Cavaliers, led by Brown's 10 points and clutch 20-footer in the fourth quarter, and in Game 1 against Detroit, it outscored the Pistons' backups, 15-14.
Last night, Stuckey, who had 10 points in the second half, provided the unexpected lift, supplementing solid efforts from the Detroit starters - Richard Hamilton (25 points), Chauncey Billups (19 points, 7 assists), Antonio McDyess (15 points, 8 rebounds), Tayshaun Prince (14 points, 8 rebounds), and Rasheed Wallace (13 points, 10 rebounds) - to give Detroit six players in double figures.
"I think Stuck was terrific," said Hamilton. "He was huge off the bench, making plays when we needed plays to be made."
Unfortunately, the Celtics couldn't say the same about their bench, and that must change in Game 3.
"The supporting cast has to do their job," said Brown. "It was typical Detroit. Their main characters did what they had to do and Stuckey was the X factor. Our bench, somebody or the group of us collectively, have to make some plays, and I have confidence that we'll do that."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.