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Bob Ryan

Playoff class was on display

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 23, 2008

Consider this a master class.

Consider this a statement.

Consider this a vivid reminder that man cannot live on home-court advantage alone, not if the stated goal is an NBA championship.

What a wonderful night this was to be a member of, the coach of, the owner of, or just a plain old fan of the Detroit Pistons. This was a demonstration of professionalism. This was the way a good team acts.

A split in Boston was all they asked for, and now they have it. They weren't quite themselves in Tuesday's Game 1, but they saw enough good things to know they only needed to tinker a bit and raise the level of their game a degree or two. That's exactly what they did, and the result was last night's 103-97 victory over the Celtics.

"They've been playing great here at home," said Richard "Rip" Hamilton, Detroit's Man of the Match with 25 points. "We knew that coming into the series. We thought that, Game 1, we just let one slip away because we didn't play with the intensity we needed to win the basketball game. Tonight it was like, 'OK, guys, all year long we say we love each other, we say we care about each other, now when we go out there, don't leave anybody hanging.' "

So it has come to pass. The Celtics have finally lost a home game, and now they have to win in Detroit or this hoop revival in the Hub will be shut down until next fall. The Celtics have lost their little cushion, and there was nothing to whine about, either. They just got beat.

Detroit beat 'em, all right. The Pistons played a poised, methodical game of basketball. They shot a hair under 50 percent against the team that had been the league's best on defense all season. They made 28 of 32 free throws. They had six men in double figures. They kept the turnovers down (11). They came up with some killer offensive rebounds when they needed them. And, of course, they defended. If you had drawn up a checklist of things a team would need to do to defeat the Celtics at home, they would all have been accounted for by the Pistons last night.

Detroit was the aggressor from the beginning, yes, making a particularly strong statement in the second quarter. The Pistons took the lead at 23-20 on an old-fashioned 3-point play by impressive rookie guard Rodney Stuckey, and they controlled the action thereafter. At 41-37, they made a strong statement by scoring on four consecutive possessions, beginning with a line-drive, clock-beating 3-pointer by Chauncey Billups, and continuing with buckets by Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Hamilton again. They led, 50-43, at the break.

They had a chance to crack in the third quarter when the Celtics hit them with a 15-4 run to grab a 58-54 lead. At this point, the Garden crowd was very much alive, in part because Ray Allen had actually hit a pair of outside shots. Ray would, in fact, hit several more before it was over, finishing with a heartening total of 25 points. If he's back to being himself, that's great for the Celtics in the long run. If there is a long run.

There may not be if the Pistons are going to keep doing what they did when they fell behind in the third quarter. You want to talk cold-blooded, how about a corner three by Hamilton; a three by Rasheed Wallace (who had missed 14 straight threes and 19 of 20, in case you're interested); an open three by Billups (who looked just fine, thank you); and a combination 3-point play by Billups (a pair of free throws and a technical on, of all people, Rajon Rondo)? That's 12 points on four Detroit possessions. Suddenly, the Celtics were down, 66-60, and they would never lead again.

Rodney Stuckey. File that name away. This is a 6-foot-5-inch rookie guard, the 15th pick in the 2007 draft. This is a young man from Eastern Washington who was the apple of Detroit's drafting eye just about all last season. The Pistons wanted him, they got him, and they are very happy about him. He answered the bell in the Orlando series when Billups sustained a hamstring injury, and he was a key man last night, scoring 6 of the first 8 Detroit points in the fourth quarter while Billups was resting up. He finished with 13 points and three assists.

"I thought Stuckey was unbelievable," gushed coach Flip Saunders. "You can see his maturation from the beginning of the playoffs till now. There was a situation where he basically carried us in the second half. He was making plays, making shots, and just putting a lot of pressure on them."

The Pistons offense was noticeably crisper than it had been in the opener, but should this come as a surprise? You knew they'd figure things out. "I thought the thing we did tonight that was different from Game 1," said Hamilton, "was that when we made cuts and we made moves, it was all in motion. It wasn't just like a guy got the ball on the wing, [then] allowed them to set their defense. We just kept motion, coming off screens, coming off curls, making them react. I thought the guys did an excellent job of moving the ball."

As good as Stuckey was, he was taking mental notes on the bench when things got sticky in the fourth quarter. The Celtics made a predictable run, reducing an 11-point deficit to 7 (86-79) with 6:57 left. This is when the Pistons reached back for that little something extra.

The Celtics kept coming, but they could not crack the Pistons. Starting from the 86-83 juncture, the Pistons scored on five straight possessions and eight of the next nine. If it wasn't Antonio McDyess from the corner, it was Prince on a goaltended runner; or it was Hamilton in the lane; or Wallace on the left baseline; or Hamilton with a clock-beating runner; or, perhaps the ultimate dagger, a simple reverse layup by Billups on an inbounds pass from Prince when the wily guard somehow managed to elude James Posey, a noted defender.

When the Celtics absolutely, positively had to stop them, they could not.

It was a bunch of professionals on a business trip, that's all. "We don't sit back and say, 'Oh, look, they are undefeated at home,' or 'They didn't win a game on the road,' " said Wallace. "This is a good ball club. We just go out there and do what we need to do."

Presumably, the Celtics likewise know what they need to do. Let's see if they have as much playoff class as the Detroit Pistons.

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

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