Paul Pierce returned to the court tonight at TD Garden, and the Celtics returned to form in a 96-85 win over the Detroit Pistons, their first victory in four tries this season.
Pierce was effective if unspectacular in 22 minutes, hitting 4 of 8 shots from the floor for 12 points while adding four rebounds and five assists. It was the kind of all-around game fans expect from Pierce, in a smaller dose. Two key 3-pointers early in the third quarter triggered a run that put the game away.
How much credit Pierce gets for the resurgence of center Jermaine O'Neal is up for debate. After scoring eight total points in the season's first three games, O'Neal finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds in a game reminiscent of his days as an All-Star in Indiana. O'Neal's effectiveness -- or maybe Pierce's return --- allowed Kevin Garnett to rest (23 minutes).
While Pierce and O'Neal sparked the offense, another difference in the team's first win vs. their previous three losses is that, for the most part, the Celtics did a good job on defense. In the first half they limited the Pistons to 44-percent shooting. Detroit made just 1-of-9 3-pointers before halftime, and many of them were well-contested. The Pistons would end up shooting 43-percent for the game.
After telling reporters he wouldn't play Pierce much, Doc Rivers played Pierce for 15 minutes in the first half, third on the team behind Rondo and Garnett. O'Neal led the Celtics in scoring before the break with 10 points.
The Celtics got off to a great start in the second half, with Allen and Pierce hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to get the lead up to 13 points. Those shots started a 17-8 run over the first six minutes of the third quarter that gave the Celtics some breathing room. They extended that lead to 86-64 by the end of the period before putting the game away in an uneventful fourth.
The Celtics play the first of two back-to-back games with the Wizards Sunday in Washington.
5:10 4th quarter, Celtics 92-76 The Celtics seemed to have settled the game down a bit with good defense. Encouraging to see Garnett in there for that.
6:24 4th quarter, Celtics 90-76 Pistons not going away here, though it doesn't feel as the outcome is in doubt. I've been wrong before. Read the comments.
10:07 4th quarter, Celtics 88-67 Celtics bench is in right now. Let's see if they can hold the lead.
END 3d quarter, Celtics 86-64: Brandon Bass beats the buzzer and it's all coming up swishes for the Celtics.
1:53 3d quarter, Celtics 83-59: Great sequence by O'Neal, first with the blocked shot and then with a 3-point play at the other end.
3:43 3d quarter, Celtics 74-55: Jermaine O'Neal just picked up his fourth foul, which is a shame because he's having himself a game. O'Neal has 14 points and 6 rebounds. He's looking for his shot, which is much more than can be said about the three previous games this season. He's got that mid-range jumper.
7:42 3d quarter, Celtics 63-49: Pierce is up to 12 points now after another 3-pointer on a kick-out from Garnett. Pierce's impact really comes down to the simple fact that he can score. Celtics were lacking that guy in the first three games.
11:14 3d quarter, Celtics 56-43: Ray Allen starts the second half off with a 3-pointer off an inbounds play. Paul Pierce hits a three from the corner on the next trip up the floor. Great way to start the second half.
1:40 2d quarter, Celtics 46-39: With the lead slipping, Paul Pierce back in to close out the half.
2:53 2d quarter, Celtics 44-36: It's pretty quiet in here. Guess the Pistons aren't exactly inspiring venom from the folks in the seats. Celtics have looked OK, but at least they have the lead.
4:58 2d quarter, Celtics 40-30: Rondo is back in the game. The Celtics have clamped down on defense, holding Detroit to 42-percent shooting.
7:56 2d quarter, Celtics 36-26: Pistons are arguing who was responsible for Greg Stiemsma, who cut across the lane and was fouled by Austin Daye. Stiemsma makes both free throws.
9:21 2d quarter, Celtics 31-24: Doc Rivers pushes the quirky button with a lineup of Pierce, Garnett, Stiemsma, Dooling, and Pavlovic, but it's working. Dooling hit a three and KG hit a jumper to give the Celtics a nice little lead.
END 1st quarter, Celtics 24-22: The Celtics come out of the quarter with the lead, but Rajon Rondo may need to come out of the game. He slipped coming around a screen trying to defend Brandon Knight, who buried a jumper. Rondo called to the bench to come out and limped up the court, but Doc Rivers either didn't see him or didn't care.
3:58 1st quarter, Celtics 18-15: Celtics force a shot-clock violation. Better.
5:32 1st quarter, Pistons 15-13: A couple of troubling things amid the noise of the T-shirt toss. The Celtics look a little lost on offense, and their defense doesn't look too good, either. Pistons are shooting 64-percent.
7:19 1st quarter, Celtics 9-6: The Celtics are stagnant on office, but Rajon Rondo bails them out with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Rondo's been working on his shot, which is good. The Celtics look like they're standing in mud on offense, which is bad.
10:45 1st quarter, 0-0: Ray Allen posts Ben Gordon, blows by him, then misses the reverse. Two UConn products going at it.
Pregame: Home sweet home for the Celtics. Hopefully.
Huge hand for Pierce as he's introduced. Let's get it.