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Dan Shaughnessy

Taught a hard lesson

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

The rules have changed. The formula has dissolved. If the Celtics are going to win a championship this spring, they are going to have to do something they have yet to do: win a playoff game away from home.

The Detroit Pistons, ladies and gents, are not the Atlanta Hawks, nor are they the Cleveland Cavaliers. They do not break out in hives when they hear boos. Last night, they kicked some hometown butt, stifled the Causeway Street din, and walked out of the New Garden with a 103-97 victory over the Celtics.

After five weeks and 16 games, the playoffs have officially started for the Celtics. The road team has won a playoff game. The Eastern Conference finals are tied, 1-1, and the Celtics tomorrow night will lug their 0-6 posteason road record into The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Too bad. It was shaping up as the perfect Boston sports week. The Celtics were coming off Sunday's epic Game 7 win over the Cavaliers, and a nice Game 1 victory over the Pistons Tuesday. Meanwhile, the local baseball team completed a perfect homestand (including a no-hitter and a two-grand-slam finale), the Yankees are in last place, and Bill Parcells's best player is AWOL, "Dancing With The Stars."

So it was all good until Rip Hamilton and Friends took control of the Boston gym and wrestled away home-court advantage. It was the Celtics' first home playoff loss, their first defeat at the Garden since March 24 (Philadelphia).

"It's a big win, but we don't settle for less," said Hamilton, one of a group of playoff-tested Piston veterans. "We live for this. It's exciting for us to come in here and take care of business."

"Tonight our defense wasn't as good as it's been," said Doc Rivers. "It's a disappointing loss. They made some big shots down the stretch when they were well-defended and you've got to tip your hat to them. We lost the game because we gave up too many points."

There was typical playoff buzz in the building before the game and there were courtside ornaments everywhere you looked. An orange-tinted Bob Kraft sat next to Wyc Grousbeck and on the other side of the baseline Tom Brady sat with Giselle, just a couple of seats over from John Havlicek. It was a nice blend of new and old Boston sports royalty.

Chauncey Billups (hamstring) wasn't wearing the nifty black tights he donned for Game 1, but he looked more mobile. He scored 19 in 32 minutes.

The Pistons missed their first five shots and Rasheed Wallace (a mere two free throws in the first half) picked up a personal foul and a technical in the opening five minutes. The Celtics ran out to an early 6-point lead, but who can trust any kind of lead in these playoffs after what the Lakers did to the Spurs at Staples Center Wednesday?

The good news for Celtics fans is that Ray Allen appears to have snapped out of his slump. He made 9 of 16 shots, scored 25 points, and hit several from long range, including a couple of threes. Welcome back to the fight, Ray.

The Pistons led by 11 with less than 10 minutes to play, but there are reasons the Celtics went almost two months at home without a loss. A baseline drive/dunk by Allen and more inspired play from P.J. Brown cut the deficit to 5 with six minutes left.

Kevin Garnett scored on a spectacular bank shot, then Allen made a three and it was a 2-point game. But the Pistons would not fold. Tayshaun Prince and Wallace made clutch long-range jumpers to shoot Detroit into a 6-point lead with 2:19 left.

These guys know what to do at the end of a close game.

"We've been through a lot," said Detroit coach Flip Saunders. "They trust each other. They've been through this. I knew we would play well tonight."

With less than a minute to play, Hamilton was fiddlin' and diddlin' out top when he realized the shot clock was about to expire. He spun toward the basket and hit an off-balance runner to make it 98-92 with 48.2 seconds left.

"The one thing I wanted to do was stay poised," said Hamilton. "When I got the opportunity and got the switch, I just tried to be aggressive and go to the basket and I hit the shot."

With 18 seconds left, Billups took an inbounds pass from Prince and banked a reverse layup, which made it 100-94 and inspired some Boston fans to bolt for the exits.

It had been a while since Hub hoop fans saw a loss. Eight weeks. Fifteen games. Nine playoff games. Two Game 7s.

The Celtics now must rediscover that road mojo that's been missing since the start of the tournament. Boston went 31-10 away from home during the regular season.

"Doc said there was going to come a time when we were going to have to go out and get one," said Garnett. "We've got to win one of the road and that's what it is."

"There has to be a different urgency now, of desperation," said Rivers. "The blanket has been taken away."

Time for the Green to step out and step up. Like Doc says, the blanket has been taken away.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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