AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- After searching for a long time, the Celtics finally located the directions that got them back on the smooth path on which they had been accustomed to driving.
The Celtics won their first road game of the playoffs last night, a 94-80 decision over the Pistons in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Boston owns a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 here tomorrow night. The Celtics are 1-6 on the road this postseason.
‘‘We’ve been a very good road team all year,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. ‘‘We just lost in the playoffs. Nobody talked about it with our team, they really didn’t. They focused on the next game. Maybe losing at home [in Game 2] and taking away our security blanket made them focus more.
‘‘But I didn’t think anybody on our team ever thought of it as this gorilla that everybody else was talking about. I think our guys just assumed that we would win eventually on the road.’’
The Celtics won an NBA-best 31 road games during the regular season. But prior to last night, they had not won on the road since April 14 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Celtics are now 2-0 at the Palace this season, including a 92-85 win Jan. 5.
‘‘The whole time throughout this we didn’t feel like we hadn’t won a road game,’’ said Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who scored 11 points. ‘‘Before the game I told the guys, ‘Hey, during the regular season we were the best team in the league on the road, so let’s go out here and try to show them. Everything that happened before is behind us. This starts right now, 0-0.’ That’s the way we came out from the start of the game.’’
Boston received double-doubles from Kevin Garnett (22 points, 13 rebounds) and Kendrick Perkins (12 points, 10 rebounds). After scoring 8 points in Game 2, the Celtics’ bench tallied 23 in Game 3, including 12 from James Posey. The Celtics shot 46.4 percent, placed six players in double figures, and scored 19 second-chance points. The Pistons, who got 26 points from Richard Hamilton, shot 38.4 percent from the field and made just 1 of 13 3-point attempts.
‘‘Right now, they have home court back,’’ said Pistons coach Flip Saunders. ‘‘Our game that we’re going to play as far as on Monday is a crucial game for us. No ifs, ands, or buts, that’s our biggest game of the year.’’
Said Detroit guard Lindsey Hunter, ‘‘They came in and took what we did on the road right back.’’
The Celtics raced to an 11-0 lead, making five of six shots, while the Pistons missed their first three. Detroit got its first points on a Rasheed Wallace lay-in with 8:52 remaining in the first quarter to make it 11-2.
Garnett, however, was whistled for his second foul with 7:13 left in the quarter and the score 11-4, and was quickly replaced by P.J. Brown. Ray Allen (14 points) picked up his second foul with the score 15-8 with left 4:10 in the first, and was subbed out for Posey. With Garnett and Allen out, Boston seemed in trouble, considering the bench’s output in Game 2.
‘‘That was the biggest part of the game for us,’’ said Rivers. ‘‘And we called time out and I said, ‘Hey, guys, it’s not a big deal. I was going to sub them anyway.’ Probably not true, but I told them not a big deal, just run the offense. Just run it and let the ball find the open shooter and we’re fine.’’
The Celtics’ reserves responded by scoring 12 points in the quarter to fuel a 25-17 lead after one. Boston outscored Detroit, 25-15, in the second quarter to take a 50-32 halftime lead.
‘‘You know they’re going to make a run,’’ Rivers said. ‘‘These guys are not shaken by much, and we knew that.’’
The Pistons didn’t gain any ground in the third quarter, as each team scored 23 points. Detroit, however, trimmed its deficit to 9 (87-78) on a fast-break dunk by Tayshaun Prince with 3:05 remaining. But the Celtics held on to win, finishing with a 7-2 run.
‘‘I thought we were trying to hold on to the game instead of just keep playing. That’s the only negative part about the game,’’ Rivers said.
Said Wallace, ‘‘We tried to come back in the second half but we came up short. We didn’t hit shots. They went on some runs and we didn’t answer the bell.’’
As big as last night’s win was for the Celtics, getting another in Game 4 tomorrow night would put them on the right road to the Finals.
‘‘Any time you win, it’s always good, whether it’s at home or on the road,’’ Garnett said. ‘‘But the reason we’re here is not just from one win. Tonight, we took care of business.
‘‘It’s always good to win on the road. I’m sure we’re going to watch tape and fix some things and come back and try to get another one.’’
This story appears in Sunday's Boston Globe.