Game Notes: Pistons at Celtics
Pistons working well on all cylinders without Iverson.
I was always jealous of Team Appleson and the others that got a front row seat to the daily soap opera at MSG. Sure, the Celtics beat had the playoff games, the calm professionalism and the overall ubuntu goodness. But the only drama was Kendrick Perkins missing a pair of headphones or wondering what obnoxious southern rap song Tony Allen would be blaring from his speakers. All that changed when Mr. Marbury touched down last Friday.
Steph was introduced with a full podium press conference on Friday night, a somewhat atypical setup that’s usually reserved just for playoff games. Sunday, before their matinee matchup with the Pistons, the Marbury era was in full effect as the press core flocked to his locker and hung on his every word. It’s worth noting that Steph, the newest employee No. 8, is set up in Sam Cassell’s old locker which happens to be right next to KG’s. One can only imagine that soon enough they’ll once again be plotting possible magazine ventures.
Before the game, Steph talks about how his training of swinging sledgehammers, and lifting boulders strengthened his core and changed the structure of his body. “This is the strongest I’ve been in my whole career,” Marbury says. Out on the court before the game, it’s easy to see Steph trying to blend in and just be one of the guys. Laughing, clapping along to the player introductions, Steph is doing all he can to not make himself the figure.
Steph aside, Sunday’s Eastern Conference Finals rematch features two teams headed in opposite directions. One of the last questions Doc was asked during his pregame press conference was about the absence of Iverson from the Detroit lineup. Doc responded with a somewhat typical, forgettable answer, but what’s perhaps most important is what was left unsaid. Something that may have led to their eventual 105-95 defeat by these Pistons hours later—the fact that without Iverson, the Pistons just may be the Pistons again.
– Out of the gate, the Pistons look much more Piston-like sans Iverson. All of the pieces seem to fall into place with the Stuckey-Rip backcourt. Stuckey has more freedom to operate, and he sets the tone with his aggressiveness offensively. Off the ball, there’s a concerted effort to get Rip going. Better ball movement and a sluggish Celtics defense spur Detroit to an 11-2 advantage.
– Over on the bench, Steph is wearing his long sleeve Celtics shooting shirt. This contrasts with the majority of his teammates who are all in their white shooting jackets. Looks like we’ve got the first sign of the guy being a me-first player.
– Interesting stretch by Sheed. Defensively, he humiliates Baby’s attempts to be a competent offensive player by blocking his drives to the tin on consecutive possessions. Then seconds later, everyone’s favorite, Joey Crawford hits Sheed with a technical foul for talking back. Therein lies Sheed in a nutshell, equal parts brilliant and baffling.
– Later in the period, the Celtics defense picks up. Boston forces the tempo and gets out on the break after Detroit misses. A pull up jumper from Pierce cuts Detroit’s lead to four. Later, after Prince picks up his second, Pierce looks to take advantage of Herrmann. Celtics end the first on a 9-0 run to pull ahead by two at the end of the quarter.
– C.I.’s finest comes out on the court to start the 2nd quarter. Showing signs of rust, Steph gets his pocket picked twice by an aggressive Will Bynum. Each swipe came as Marbury was trying to set up the offense while dribbling up court. Apparently, multitasking can be tough after a year away from the court. I guess Boston should be thankful he wasn’t chewing gum at the same time.
– Detroit goes big against the diminutive Steph-House backcourt. Herrmann, the man with the superfluous consonants in his surname, looks to take advantage of having the smaller Marbury on him. Posting him up, hitting jumpers and finding the openings out of the double team, Herrmann puts up a team high 11 points and prompts Doc to call Ray and Rondo back into the game. Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see how much the Celtics defense can get away with the second unit combo of Steph-House. Especially now with Tony Allen and Scalabrine sidelined, the Celtics’ lack of depth at the wing could prove to be a glaring hole.
– During a TV timeout, the jumbotron features a montage of the dancing of one of Boston’s most beloved fans. The seven-year-old knows how to get the crowd hype as he frequently has all eyes in the Garden on his every move during breaks in the action. It’s actually gotten to the point where I’m personally happy to hear Soulja Boy because at least it means that this kid will get some more face time.
– Behind Stuckey, Detroit pulls away late in the 2nd quarter. Hitting their shots and getting to the line, Detroit is controlling the tempo and forcing Boston to constantly attack a fully set, Iverson-less Detroit defense.
– Doc must have pushed the right buttons because his Cs jump out on a 12-0 run to start the second half. Clicking on all cylinders as Baby, Pierce and Rondo all chip in to put Boston back in the driver’s seat.
At one point during the stretch, after a Rondo jumper puts Boson on top, Steph jumps off the bench in celebration of his teammates efforts. Somewhere, Chris Duhon wonders where’s the love.
– Perkins, taking a page out of Sheed’s book, sets up on the block, spins and hits fall away jumper to tie the game. Perkisasmoothfinesseplayer.com doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
– Rip sets up in the corner. Taking the feed, he drains a three as the Celtics bench yells at him. Next time down Tay bounces in a three from the other corner to put Detroit up three. “Hey Tayshaun! Eat a cheeseburger!” yells a Celtics fan.
– Detroit begins to pull away as the Celtics struggle to put points on the board. Pierce, who’s played every minute thus far, is carrying his load, but Ray has yet to find his stroke as Rip has hounded him into a 2-10 performance from the field midway through the 3rd. Ray has complained about the pesky defense of Rip before. At one point last season, he joked about having to wear his shooting sleeve just to avoid being constantly nicked up by the long nails of the constantly swiping Rip. “Rip takes it very personal when he plays Ray,” Doc went on to say after the game. “There must be some UConn stuff going on there.”
– Baby hits another open jumper. This one is his fourth. Typically Baby’s jumper, or lack thereof, kills the Celtics. Today, in place of KG, he’s hitting them at a good enough clip to keep Boston close. On the other end, Sheed’s proving to be the anti-Baby, forcing up rushed jumpers and shooting just 3-12 from the field. Looks like he’s mailing this one in. I can’t believe I used the term anti-Baby to describe Rasheed Wallace.
– Eddie is in the House. Early in the 4th quarter, House drains two threes to tie the game. The building explodes as Detroit calls timeout to stop the Boston momentum. Whatever Curry talked about in the timeout didn’t about to much as a Marbury behind-the-back pass leads to a Baby lay in. Next time down, House strikes again with a pull up three, 85-81 Celtics.
– On the other end, Steph is chasing Rip around the court. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him dig in this intensely on defense. Today, the results may not be there but the intensity and desire surely is. Moments later, after checking out of the game, Marbury stays standing, and encourages his teammates. Somewhere Quentin Richardson is crestfallen.
– Late in the 4th, it looks like Sheed is trying. After coasting through much of the middle part of the game, now, with the score close, he’s all in. He hits twice over Perkins from the right wing. After each jumper, he makes sure to yell back to Tony Allen and the rest of the Celtics bench. One can only assume he’s chastising Tony for wearing a suede blazer while there’s a snowstorm outside.
– For Boston, it’s still just the Paul Pierce show as he’s been the only one on Boston who’s been able to consistently create his own shot. His drive on Prince gives him a game-high 25 and puts Boston up three with five minutes left. Without any offensive help, Pierce alone can’t protect the small Boston lead as Detroit comes back to take control of the game.
– Less than two minutes left, a Prince three from the corner caps their comeback and puts Detroit up by eight. Next time down, Rip extinguishes what little hope Boston had left by draining a three from that same spot.
For Boston, the loss, their second in three games, exposes a chink in their armor. It goes without saying that minus Garnett, the defending champs lack their trademark defensive intensity and are missing a key weapon of their offense. Against Detroit, all of this proved more glaring as Ray was held to just 10 points and injuries to Tony and Scalabrine forced Pierce to play 47 minutes. Despite the additions of a well behaved Steph and Mikki Moore, there are clearly some holes in the Celtics roster. “Shoot, we got issues everywhere with our depth,” Pierce admits afterward.
For Detroit, this win shows that their season may still be salvageable. Getting back to what they do best and embracing their battle-tested core may be the key to turning their season around. “They’ve been together and they know what they’re doing out there,” Pierce says. “When Iverson is out there, they’re still trying to figure it out.”