AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - If you bleed Green, this was the one you've been waiting for.
The Celtics played like champions last night. They played like the team New England fell in love with during the 82-game regular season. They stalled the Pistons, moved the ball, threw down ferocious jams, and silenced the Motown crowd with a 94-80 victory at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
They won on the road.
It had been a long time. The Celtics hadn't won away from home since April 14, when they beat the Knicks in The House That Isiah Is Tearing Down. Boston was an embarrass ing 0-6 on the road in the playoffs. 0 for Atlanta. 0 for Cleveland. With no direction home.
Now, 1 for 1 in the Motor City.
"We've been a very good road team all year," said Doc Rivers. "We just lost in the playoffs. Nobody talked about it with our team. Maybe losing at home [in Game 2] and taking away our security blanket made them focus more. "But I didn't think anybody on our team ever thought of it as this gorilla that everybody else was talking about." Captain Paul Pierce did speak of a "gorilla" after the win, but said, "The whole time throughout this we didn't feel like we hadn't won a road game. Before the game I told the guys, 'Hey, during the regular season we were the best team in the league on the road, so let's go out here and try to show them.' "
"We were 0 for whatever on the road," said Rajon Rondo. "Tonight, we just came out with great intensity."
So now NBA America is halfway home to David Stern's dream Finals. The Lakers lead the Spurs, 2-0, and the Celtics lead the Pistons, 2-1, and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are probably in a studio somewhere, posing for a magazine cover.
There's certainly great temptation to overstate Boston's decisive win last night. Going in, we figured the winner of Game 3 would be the winner of the series. Detroit coach Flip Saunders said that last night's victor would carry great confidence the rest of the way. Of course, Flip didn't know his players would compete for the Golden Milk-Bone Dog Biscuit over the next couple of hours.
"They came out aggressive and we missed some shots," said Saunders. "I thought we had a lot of energy sucked out of us when we missed some shots . . . You overreact and you look bad, giving them wide-open shots at the basket. We can't lose our focus and concentration on what we're trying to do."
It was a good night for Hockeytown (the Red Wings beat the Penguins, 4-0, in Game 1 of the Cup finals), a good night for Tigertown (19-3 win over the Twins at
The pregame nonsense here gives new meaning to "over the top." Every fan is bathed in white, which produces a cloud-like effect. It might feel like hoop heaven if not for the artificial noise (Thunderstix are so 2002) and flames shooting out from the backboards.
Kevin Garnett (22 points, 13 rebounds) had his game face out of the chute. He threaded two passes for easy dunks, hit a shot from out top, then watched Rondo take it to the basket for a 3-point play. When Ray Allen converted a drive to the hoop with a reverse layup, it was a stunning 11-0. The Celtics had terrific ball movement and emphatic finishes. It was the brand of road basketball Celtics fans had been waiting for since the start of the playoffs.
"We wanted to come out aggressive and take the crowd out of the game," said Pierce.
The Celtics didn't let the Pistons off the mat in the second. Getting big contributions from the bench, with Pierce taking only one shot in the first half, Boston ran to an 18-point lead. The Pistons shot only 32 percent for the half.
Garnett's jumper from out top at the start of the second half put the Celtics on top by 20. It was worth remembering that San Antonio led the Lakers by 20 in the first game of the Western finals, then lost. On the other hand, the Pistons don't have Kobe Bryant. It was 73-49 late in the third.
The Pistons delivered some shots to the body and cranium in the fourth, but the Celtics counterpunched. Boston outrebounded Detroit, 44-28.
"For the most part, it was a great effort," said Garnett. "Now we have to go out and try to duplicate it. This game is over. The mentality is to be aggressive in Game 4. Stay aggressive on both ends. Don't expect any calls because we are on the road. We've got to continue to try to duplicate this."
"The [Game 2] loss rejuvenated us," said Pierce. "We were upset about giving up the home court."
Now they have it back.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.