7.24.2009

Celts Outlast Pistons

Celtics Improve to 18-4
1990-91 Boston Celtics
Remembering the 29-5 Start

The noose was tightening. What once had been an air of giddiness at the Garden now was one of apprehension.

The home team was in the process of a monumental meltdown. They couldn't shoot, rebound or defend. Other than that, they were getting the job done.

A 16-point fourth-quarter lead was being reduced at a rapid clip. The slumping Detroit Pistons were salivating at the prospect of pulling this one out. Not only that, but William Bedford (William Bedford?) was in the vanguard of this movement. How much more ignominy could the Celtics take?

"I thought we had 'em," said John Salley. "I thought they were ready to panic. They started looking around, and that's when human nature kicks in."

What happened instead was that the Celtics snapped out of their funk and came away with an emotional, gratifying 108-100 victory last night. Suddenly, the shots went in, the rebounds came their way and the momentum shifted.

The Pistons made their run. The Celtics stopped it, but not before things got a little anxious.

Boston had used a superb third quarter to lead, 88-74, entering the fourth. Even though the Pistons are renowned for vise-like performances in the fourth, this didn't seem to be the likely occasion for such a performance, given the venue as well as their current swoon (six defeats in seven games).

And when Dee Brown, who excelled in 21 minutes, scored to open the fourth, it was 90-74, and a Scott Hastings-Dave Popson duel seemed unavoidable.

But how could the Celtics have anticipated the hyperactive Bedford turning into Akeem Olajuwon? All he did was score 12 points, grab 4 rebounds and block 2 shots in the quarter.

His play infected his teammates and soon the Pistons were off on an 18-3 run made possible by voracious offensive rebounding and the usual Detroit-like defensive stand. Bedford had 10 points in the run, including an unbelievably acrobatic follow and a foul-line jumper that made it 93-92 with 5:48 to play.

The Celtics, who shot 58 percent in the first three quarters, had gone almost six minutes with one basket. And when Larry Bird and Kevin McHale missed, the Pistons had a chance to take the lead.

However, Isiah Thomas (26 points, 11 assists, 5 steals) made one of his few dumb moves by pulling up for a 3-pointer. It rimmed out. Brian Shaw (14 points, 10 assists) then converted a third-chance hoop, and after a Bedford brick, McHale (24 points, 11 rebounds) scored on the break and the hemorrhaging had been stopped.

It was now 97-92. Salley (10 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks) made it 97-94 and Bird (16 points, 11 rebounds) clanged a 3-pointer. But Larry got a reprieve when Thomas ran down the long rebound and couldn't stay in bounds.

You probably can figure out the rest. No. 33 got it back and didn't hesitate to launch another from international waters. Of course it went in. The lead was now 100-94 and the Pistons never got closer than 5 the rest of the way.

"For a while, it was slim pickin's," said McHale, who was 10 for 17 and had 8 rebounds in the fourth quarter. "But I think it's a good sign that we came back the way we did."

It wasn't pretty. The Celtics shot 26 percent in the fourth and were outrebounded, 21-16, including 10-9 under their own basket. But the Pistons had little left after their big surge and could only wonder what might have happened had Thomas' trey gone down.

"I think that might have made a difference," Vinnie Johnson said.

The Celtics had been impressive and dominating in the middle two quarters after a give-and-take first period. They led, 51-43, at the break and then hit the Pistons with a 37-point third quarter, shooting 67 percent.

"That was where we lost the game," said Detroit coach Chuck Daly. "It's hard to make up that kind of deficit against them in this building."

The Pistons' offensive story until then was pretty much Thomas and the flu-ridden Joe Dumars (18 points). At the half, they had 9 points from Bill Laimbeer, Mark Aguirre and Vinnie.

The Celtics, meanwhile, got a big third quarter from Reggie Lewis (10 of his 16) and had the lead to as many as 17. Shaw even drove the lane for a dunk, sending Celticologists to the archives to check when that last happened.

But all the positive vibes soon became forgotten as the fourth quarter unfolded. And while the Celtics were able to reverse things in time, the invisible Laimbeer (4 points, 2 rebounds) seemed to sum up the still haughty feeling of the world champs.

"It was an opportunity for them to measure themselves against us," he said matter-of-factly. "It's probably a big deal for them."

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