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Pistons 104, Celtics 92

Painful loss

Garnett leaves early after his right calf hurt

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By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 30, 2010

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Glen Davis had no idea what happened. He did what he normally does when he sees Kevin Garnett finish a dunk — he sprinted back on defense. But when he looked up, Garnett was still at the other end of the floor.

“I turned around, and he was limping,’’ Davis said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, [expletive].’ ’’

Of all the injuries the Celtics have been able to withstand this season, this would be one they can’t afford.

The sequence was innocuous enough, coming in the first quarter of the Celtics’ 104-92 loss to the Pistons last night. Off a pass from Ray Allen, Garnett cut hard to the basket, thinking dunk. He planted with two feet, but as he went up, it was clear that his right leg was hurt.

He slammed the ball through with two hands but hung on the rim longer than normal, his right leg almost dangling.

Garnett came down gingerly, grimacing as he limped to halfcourt. The first thing that flashed through Paul Pierce’s head was Utah, 2009, when Garnett came down from a dunk limping the same way and he wound up missing most of the rest of the season.

“You start thinking about it,’’ Pierce said. “He jumped, dunked the ball, and it was something, when he came down, kind of similar.’’

Garnett reached to foul Tayshaun Prince to stop play, then he dropped to the ground, trying to stretch his calf, but that appeared to cause him more pain.

“KG is not a guy that’s going to go down pretty easy,’’ Pierce said. “He’s going to play through a lot of pain. So I knew when he sat there for a moment, I thought it was pretty bad.’’

Celtics coach Doc Rivers drifted onto the floor along with trainer Ed Lacerte, but Garnett got up under his own power. As he walked toward the bench, he used his hands to hide his face, but he couldn’t mask the frustration and disappointment.

For Pistons fans, it was “what goes around’’ for Garnett.

Fueled by Piston Charlie Villanueva’s Twitter claim that Garnett called him a “cancer patient’’ in the Celtics’ first trip to Detroit Nov. 2, one fan behind the Boston bench screamed, “That’s what you get for making fun of cancer patients.’’

Coaches and players shot the fan glares, security gave a halfhearted reprimand, and the Celtics’ Shaquille O’Neal offered his own verbal retaliation.

“Shut your stupid [expletive] up,’’ he said.

Garnett was on the bench with Lacerte examining his leg. Seemingly fighting back tears, the forward leaned on the shoulder of assistant coach Kevin Eastman. Eventually, he left for the locker room. X-rays were negative, and team doctors determined that it was a muscle injury on the outside part of the right calf. An MRI will be done today to determine whether it was a pull or a tear.

“For me, personally, I know I’ve taken injuries to the legs and to the knees,’’ said the Celtics’ Jermaine O’Neal. “To me, when I’m thinking he couldn’t come back, he had to be hurt. I’ve walked those shoes. It’s rough.’’

Rivers braced himself for the probability that Garnett would miss games. Almost a year to the day, Garnett was kicked in the leg by Monta Ellis in Golden State, forcing him to sit out 10 games. The Celtics went 4-6 in his absence. Last season, Andrei Kirilenko missed 14 of the Jazz’s last 16 regular-season games and sat out the first eight games of the playoffs with a strained calf muscle. Rivers was hopeful that Garnett’s injury wasn’t severe, but initially he was worried.

“I thought it was his knee when he first did it,’’ Rivers said. “Injuries when no one is around are always the severe ones. There was no one around him when he grabbed it, so that’s the first thing I thought, ‘It’s a bad one.’ Let’s just hope not. I don’t think it is.’’

The Celtics struggled without Garnett. The Pistons shot 55.7 percent, and with Rodney Stuckey out, Tracy McGrady got the last-minute nod at point guard and carved the Celtics up for 21 points (11 in the fourth quarter) and eight assists.

The Pistons put six players in double figures, and Pierce’s 33-point night was in vain.

“You lose one of the best defensive players in all of the league — if not the best — that does add a blow on the other end of the court,’’ Pierce said. “We couldn’t get a defensive rhythm. The pick-and-roll with Tracy McGrady really bothered us, with him going back to his old self there.’’

With Rajon Rondo (ankle), Delonte West (wrist), and Kendrick Perkins (ACL) all out, Rivers said, “The list is just getting really long.’’

But the most pressing issue was Garnett, and what his absence could mean.

“It could definitely be deflating, especially because I don’t know the extent of it,’’ Pierce said. “I hope it’s nothing major. I just feel bad for him, that he’s fought to get to this point, and now it’s another setback.’’

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