AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Pistons newcomer Allen Iverson recently said he wanted to "send a message" to the defending champions. The Celtics sent their own message, loud and clear, with their defense last night, en route to easily handling their Eastern Conference rival and spoiling Iverson's home debut.
Led by a smothering defense, the Celtics were ahead by as many as 23 points before defeating the Pistons, 88-76, at a sold-out Palace of Auburn Hills. Boston improved to 6-1, 3-1 on the road. The Pistons (4-2) are 0-2 since acquiring Iverson via trade from Denver a week ago. Reserve guard Tony Allen scored a team-high 23 points for Boston while Ray Allen added 17.
"The best defense of the year, by far, all game, until the fourth quarter when we turned it down a little bit," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Active hands. Physical. Got up in [their] bodies. It was really neat to see. It was nice.
"We've been good defensively all year. But tonight was our best."
The Celtics limited the Pistons to 34.7 percent shooting and scored 23 points off 17 Detroit turnovers. Boston also limited Detroit to an opponent season-low 10 points and 18.8 percent shooting in the second quarter.
"Defensively, we were very sound," said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who had 8 points and 12 rebounds. "I thought we were communicating. Tonight was one of those nights where your offense looks [terrible]. This is when you know what your team is supposed to do.
"Defensively, we were very sound. Very in the flow. And that's what carried us."
Detroit guard Rip Hamilton, who missed all eight field goal attempts, said, "Boston just played great defensively. I thought we could have played better, but it was just one of those games."
Video of Iverson's introductory news conference was shown before the game, with the perennial All-Star talking about bringing the franchise a championship. Iverson also received a loud welcome when he was announced, but it went downhill from there, as he finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting and four assists in 31 minutes.
"Obviously, it's going to take time because it's a different look," Iverson said. "It's a different flow. I'm a totally different player than they're used to playing with and we are just going to have to get used to each other."
Garnett viewed the Pistons as a much different team than the one run by his good friend, Chauncey Billups, who led Detroit to an NBA title in 2004 but was sent to Denver in the Iverson deal.
"The armory doesn't look the same on this team," Garnett said. "I'm not taking anything away from AI. He's a great player. Put him in. But when a team is cohesive and is joined as one, you know it's different. It's very different."
The Celtics trailed, 19-17, at the end of the first quarter. With Paul Pierce picking up three quick fouls in the quarter, Tony Allen gave Boston a spark.
With Pierce on the bench, the Celtics went on a 14-3 run, capped by two free throws by Rajon Rondo (13 points) with 3:31 left in the second quarter to take a 37-25 lead. Tony Allen had 8 points during that run.
The Celtics went into halftime with a commanding 47-29 lead while the Pistons fans booed.
"It was about keeping a hand up and keeping the body in front of them," said Ray Allen. "Also, the rotations were good and everyone was where they were supposed to be."
Tony Allen made 11 of 16 shots and one free throw, and added two steals and one block in 27 minutes. The 6-foot-4-inch, 213-pounder has averaged 18 points the past two games.
The bench also accounted for nearly half of Boston's points, with 43.
"Offensively, I just took advantage of what the defense gave me," Allen said. "Basically, just attacked the lanes."
Said Rivers, "[Tony] was tremendous and we needed him. Paul gets the phantom third foul and he had to sit the entire time. But we needed [Allen's] help, and he was terrific."
The Celtics went ahead by 22 (60-38) after a 3-pointer by Ray Allen with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter. Boston finished the quarter ahead, 69-49, and Detroit never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.
The game was Boston's first at Detroit since clinching the Eastern Conference title here last season.
"We look forward to playing Detroit," Garnett said. "This is one of those teams that we pattern ourselves after."
Considering that Iverson didn't have a training camp with the Pistons under his belt, the Celtics expect Detroit to be a lot better down the stretch.
"They'll be a much better team later," Rivers said. "If you get a new player, especially a new player that needs the ball in his hands, it probably takes away 75 percent of their offensive stuff, and we knew that going into the game."
Said Iverson, "We weren't playing scrubs. These guys are world champions. So we have a ways to go, but I think that we'll get it sooner rather than later."