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Celtics 86, Pistons 78

Celtics score a TKO

They fight off Pistons to win 10th straight

By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / January 31, 2009
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Blowouts have marked the Celtics' 10-game winning streak. But they responded to a wake-up call in taking an 86-78 victory over the Detroit Pistons last night.

The game was played at postseason pace, each possession contested, the tension building before center Kendrick Perkins was ejected following a flagrant foul against Jason Maxiell with 5:56 remaining.

"That sparked our ball club, when we saw Perk leaving the game," captain Paul Pierce said. "That's part of a physical game; he never had any intention of hurting the guy. You see that every other day in the NBA. We stood our ground for the most part and put the game away."

The Celtics (39-9), who host Minnesota tomorrow, have outscored opponents by an average of more than 18 points during the streak. But the Pistons (25-20) stayed in contention to the end before losing their third straight to the Celtics this season.

"It was a good win because it was hard-fought, almost a playoff atmosphere with the banging and shoving, and we just hung in there," coach Doc Rivers said. "We didn't play great and I don't know if they did, either. There were some ugly stretches of offense for both teams, but both teams are very good defensively. So when we play each other, that's the type of game you get."

The Celtics led by 11 in the first quarter. But instead of falling back, the Pistons rallied. In two previous wins, the Celtics outscored the Pistons in the second quarter, 30-10 and 28-19. This time, the Pistons won the second-quarter battle, 25-20.

The Celtics seemed set to take over in the second half, but despite failing to score from the field in the first 3:40, the Pistons stayed in contention. The Celtics scored 8 successive points over a 2:22 span early in the second half, Perkins's tip-in providing a 51-42 lead.

Just as the Pistons seemed poised to rally, the Celtics took over following Perkins's ejection.

The play began when Rasheed Wallace missed from close range. Maxiell appeared to push Eddie House before grabbing the rebound, then was hit in the head by Perkins before he could try a putback. Maxiell shoved Perkins, earning a technical foul, with Perkins getting ejected for a flagrant foul. Ray Allen converted the technical foul shot and Maxiell missed both at the line, but Richard Hamilton's jumper kept the Pistons within 71-67 with 5:41 remaining.

"It was a hard foul by Perk," Rivers said. "We don't want them getting the layup but we don't want him getting thrown out of the game. And with the way the rules are now - we could have used Perk."

Glen Davis replaced Perkins, and his banker, followed by House's second-chance 3-pointer, gave the Celtics a 76-67 advantage with 4:49 remaining with Pierce at the scorer's table on the way to replace House. But Pierce returned to the bench when the Pistons took a timeout, then failed to beat the shot clock. Garnett's 17-footer stretched the lead to 78-67 with 4:02 to go. Rodney Stuckey's pull-up was followed by a House 3-point miss, then a Wallace banker pulled the Pistons within 7. The Celtics called timeout and replaced House with Pierce (20 points), who combined with Garnett (22 points) to finish off the Pistons.

"When Eddie makes a three, we have to find out if he can make another one," Rivers said. "And it's not bad having Paul Pierce as a sub." House hit 1 of 3 3-pointers and had 3 points.

Garnett dunked off a Rajon Rondo lob following a timeout to give the Celtics an 80-71 lead with 2:21 to go. Garnett's reach led to a steal by Pierce, who fed Garnett underneath for an 82-75 lead with 37 seconds to play.

Pierce had four of his five assists in the opening quarter as the Celtics set the tone and took a 23-16 lead.

"The way we executed down the stretch was phenomenal," Rivers said. "Coming out of timeouts, it got to the point where that was the only time we were scoring. But we kept our composure.

"I thought Paul Pierce down the stretch, with two minutes left, won it with his passing. He knew they were going to help [defensively] and he sucked them in and he kept finding guys."

Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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