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Even the best teams can’t play their starters for 48 minutes, and neither the Boston Celtics nor the Detroit Pistons are among the best teams. Both teams needed contributions from their benches Wednesday night at TD Garden, and the Pistons’ reserves won.
Reserve guard Ben Gordon hit four fourth-quarter three-pointers, part of a 22-point night that helped the Pistons to a 98-88 victory over the Celtics.
The Celtics entered the fourth quarter down just 73-72. With 1:30 elapsed, Gordon found himself with the shot-clock winding down and no one else open. Gordon took the 25-foot three-pointer from the top of the key and drained it. He hit a second two possessions later, extending the Pistons’ lead to 82-76.
Despite both Gordon’s success Wednesday and his reputation as a sharp-shooter from his days with the Bulls, the Celtics – in particular guard Avery Bradley – continued to play off him near the arch. In the zone and without much pressure, Gordon happily continued shooting from deep, knocking down two more for an insurmountable double-digit lead late in the game.
The other Pistons combined to match Gordon with four fourth-quarter baskets. Between far superior free-throw shooting – 24-of-29 overall, vs. 19-of-32 for the Celtics – and a suddenly effective defense, the Pistons never trailed in the fourth quarter and never looked out of control.
Rajon Rondo set a career-high with 35 points Wednesday, abusing single Piston defenders from all parts of the court for three quarters. He used flashy spins and stretches to maneuver his way around defenders from the post. He drained mid-range jumpers without hesitation, especially in the third quarter, when he scored eight of the Celtics’ first 1o. He even knocked down a three-pointer in the second quarter.
But the Pistons started double-teaming Rondo in the fourth, and the Celtics’ offense ground to a halt. Neither Paul Pierce nor Ray Allen could get anything close to a clean shot, draining just a combined 25 percent of their field goals.
Pierce never looked comfortable on the court Wednesday. His attempts at slashing through the lane never worked, with Pierce usually ending up shooting out-of-position and with a hand in his face. He never got close to the basket, and he never was able to square up before shooting.
Allen, meanwhile, looked slow. His greatest strength beyond his shooting is his conditioning, allowing him to run unceasingly without the ball until his defender tires and he’s left open in the corner. But against the Pistons Allen rarely moved, and when he did it was rarely for long. He didn’t make his first layup until only five seconds remained in the game.
Chris Wilcox started in place of Kevin Garnett, who sat with a sore hip flexor. The move paid dividends on offense, with Wilcox using his considerable speed to run the court. His athleticism shined brightest on two alley-oop dunks from Rondo. The first came in the first and cut Detroit’s lead to 12-9. The second came in the third and put Boston up 53-49.
Wilcox had to explode through the lane to set both plays up, hanging in the air before catching and redirecting Rondo’s passes. The plays seemed to last several seconds each, highlighting both Wilcox’s hands and Rondo’s accurate passing. Rondo also hit Wilcox for an easier dunk early in the first.
While Wilcox made good use of his start on offense, scoring 17 (second-highest behind Rondo) on 8-of-12 shooting and grabbing three offensive rebounds, he and Jermaine O’Neal struggled mightily on defense. Center Greg Monroe in particular proved difficult to contain, with Monroe scoring 22 points on 11-of-14 shooting, plus four offensive rebounds. The Pistons overall grabbed 11 offensive rebounds and scored 42 in the paint.
Wilcox and O’Neal – who finished with an utterly forgettable one point, two rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes – also could not shut down point guard Rodney Stuckey, who made them both look old and slow time and time again. Stuckey led the Pistons with 25 points, and the Celtics’ bigs could do little more than foul him as he drove by. Stuckey knocked down all 11 of his free throws, however, making the Celtics’ interior defense look like little more than an exercise in futility.
Wednesday’s game proved that inconsistent, mediocre teams like the Celtics and the Pistons need more than one scorer to win games. The Pistons got 20-plus points from three players, and they won because of it.