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Effort doesn’t need work

Pistons are committed, yet still come up short

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 20, 2011

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There were few reasons to believe the Pistons would have much of a chance against the Celtics last night. Detroit was working on a three-game winning streak, but was still on only a 30-win pace halfway through the season, and was playing without Richard Hamilton while working on trading him.

But the Pistons beat the odds for most of the game and were on the verge of pulling off an upset before falling, 86-82. In fact, the Pistons led by as many as 8 points in the final quarter and did not trail in the second half until the final minute.

“Great game,’’ said the Pistons’ Tracy McGrady. “You can’t really ask more from our guys, they did a hell of a job. This is a tough place to play and what it really came down to is, who was going to execute? And them being a veteran club and knowing how to close these type of games out, they did that.

“We’re still growing. You know, I like the way we competed and that’s all you can ask. It’s very encouraging. We competed with the best team in the East and one of the better teams in the league on their home court. So, if we can get this type of effort night in and night out we’re going to give ourselves a chance. Just got to learn how to close out the game, execute down the stretch.’’

The Pistons actually did execute the plays they wanted when it counted. But the Celtics executed better, both offensively and defensively.

Detroit held an 82-78 lead after Tayshaun Prince found Greg Monroe with 2:43 remaining. But that would be the Pistons’ final basket, the Celtics taking the lead on Ray Allen’s 22-footer out of a timeout with 24.5 seconds left. Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon failed on drives after that.

“When you’re a great player like he is — he’s somebody that is never going to shy away, just because he’s 1 for 7,’’ Detroit coach John Kuester said of Allen. “He’s a consummate pro. I was here at 4:30 and he was already here — very impressive, that’s the way he’s handled himself throughout his career.

“We had some good looks, some good shots — making sure that we did some good things. In regards to Stuckey, he had a good look off Tayshaun’s drive. I thought Ben Gordon got fouled as he went to the basket. They are an experienced team, they took their time, they were poised. I was very proud of our guys, how hard they played.’’

A key play at the end was a Rajon Rondo rebound of a Kevin Garnett miss before Allen’s tiebreaker.

“They are usually a team that shoots a very high percentage, and we did a very good job defending them throughout the night,’’ Kuester said. “The problem is we had to keep them off the boards. Rondo’s offensive rebound at the end, those little things end up hurting you. But, again, our players played with a sense of urgency throughout the night. I thought they were poised and [I’m] very pleased with our effort.’’

Said McGrady: “Rondo, he’s a savvy guy, he’s a great rebounder at his size and he snuck in there and got one.’’

But the Pistons took the Celtics out of their running game for most of the night, limiting Rondo’s influence.

“Tayshaun did a great job making [Rondo] stay out on the perimeter and not penetrating so much and really proding under the basket and finding his guys,’’ McGrady said. “We did a great job, but at the same time it comes down to that one play that you need to get in order for us to get some breathing room and close that game out. And we didn’t do that.

“Teams that know how to close these games out, know where the ball’s going, set the proper screens, and do what they got to do. And guys take those big shots and knock them down — very confident in those situations. We’ve got some young guys who haven’t been in these type of situations.

“No question this is the real deal. I like the way our team is playing now. We’re competing, executing, defending, and talking, and we’re giving ourselves a chance. So, again, if we’re competing like we competed tonight, we’ll be fine.’’

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

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