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Pistons 96, Celtics 81

Celtics get pounded by Pistons

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / February 20, 2012
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - After darting to the basket and being hacked by a backpedaling Brandon Knight, Rajon Rondo waited for a whistle. Seconds later, a fast-approaching Greg Monroe landed on Rondo’s back attempting to block the shot. Still, no whistle.

Rondo had reached his boiling point. After the Celtics committed a 24-second clock violation, Rondo grabbed the ball and flipped it toward the stomach of official Sean Wright.

He followed by calling Wright a couple of choice names before being ejected for the first time in his career. Rondo exemplified the Celtics’ frustration last night against the Pistons.

In a game filled with statistical anomalies, the Celtics dropped an infuriating 96-81 decision to the suddenly hot Pistons, their second loss to Detroit in five days. And after four technical fouls, 24 turnovers, and 46 free throws allowed, the Celtics finally acknowledged their effort and energy are lacking, a stunning development considering the amount of 30-somethings in the locker room.

Without Kevin Garnett, who left the team to tend to a personal family matter and is questionable for tonight’s game in Dallas against the Mavericks, the Celtics fell behind by 13 points at halftime, and then after cutting the deficit to 5 in the third quarter went 5:59 without a point.

The Celtics lost despite holding the Pistons to 37.8 percent shooting. Rodney Stuckey finished with 16 points on two made field goals because he attempted as many free throws as the Celtics team.

Detroit attempted 29 free throws in the first half as the Celtics were whistled for 18 personal fouls, more than they have committed in seven of their games this season. That drew coach Doc Rivers’s ire, and the Celtics never could fully shift their attention away from the officials.

“We just pretty much gave them everything they wanted tonight,’’ forward Paul Pierce said. “They were able to run the ball on the break, offensive rebounds on top of that, and we turned the ball over far too many times. We play solid defense, then we give up an offensive rebound and then we come down on offense and turn it over. It’s very tough to win in that circumstance.’’

Scoring droughts, lack of defensive rebounding, silly turnovers, and lazy fouls are becoming a staple of the Celtics’ game. Fourteen of their last 15 opponents have grabbed 10 or more offensive rebounds, and Detroit turned its 16 offensive rebounds into 29 second-chance points. The Celtics, meanwhile, scored 6 second-chance points.

Rondo was on the team bus by the time the media was allowed in the locker room but his frustration was evident. He committed a team-high six turnovers, while Pierce had five. In one sequence, backup center Greg Stiemsma drove toward the basket, holding the ball low, and practically allowed Monroe to strip it from him as the Pistons went on a successful fast break.

Rivers worked the officials from the early minutes but to no avail. The Pistons were the more passionate and aggressive team, and the Celtics are wondering why they are lacking fire.

“Too many times we’re looking at the officials to bail us out,’’ Pierce said. “We can’t expect anything from referees. We’re on the road. They are not always going to make the call that you want. You gotta continue to play through it. We can’t be a fragile team, frustrated with the calls. Someway, somehow we got to be mentally tougher than that. That’s bottom line, we have to compete a little bit better. Just very disappointed with the way we competed.’’

The Celtics are now 15-15 with games at Dallas and Oklahoma City to end the first half. While Linsanity has taken over New York and the Knicks are streaking, the Celtics are struggling to maintain focus during an entire game.

“What it boils down to is us being consistent,’’ said center Jermaine O’Neal, who had five blocked shots. “When we’re good, we’re really good. And to be honest, when we’re bad, we’re bad. That’s just how we are right now.’’

“At the end of the day, I’ve got to do a better job with this group,’’ Rivers said. “The officials are human, too, and I think you can clearly see one team had a better spirit. We’ve had some good stretches, but our turnovers are killing this team and if we don’t fix it, we’ll continue to be the .500 team we are.’’

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