Kevin Garnett scored 26 points and Paul Pierce added 22 to lift the Boston Celtics past Detroit 88-79 on Tuesday in Game 1 of their NBA semi-final playoff series.
The Celtics, pushed to seven games by Atlanta in the first round and Cleveland in round two, used a tough defensive effort to win the opener and will host Game 2 today before the scene shifts to Detroit for two games.
“We had a lot of energy,” Garnett said. “We have got a goal. We have to suck it up and play.”
Two days after finishing off LeBron James and Cleveland, the Celtics were aggressive and active on offense and defense in subduing the better-rested Pistons.
“You have Detroit coming in rested. This is a perfect opportunity for them to come in and steal one. We knew they would be thinking that,” Pierce said. “We came out with extra focus and energy. We knew they would try to come out and steal one.”
Either Boston or Detroit will play either San Antonio or the Los Angeles Lakers in next month’s NBA Finals. The defending champion Spurs and Lakers were to open the best-of-seven Western Conference finals yesterday in Los Angeles.
The Celtics had the best record in the regular season to claim a home-court edge throughout the NBA playoffs, but have yet to win a road game in the playoffs while improving to 9-0 at home in the post-season.
Pierce had said he felt like his body had been in a boxing bout after Sunday’s victory, but he came back two days later with a stellar effort, thanks to therapy.
“Ice. Massage. More ice and massage. Just get your rest and take care of your body,” he said. “I didn’t think I would feel this way after that Game 7. I thought my body was totally gone. But I was able to get my body in good shape.”
Garnett, who grabbed nine rebounds and hit 11 of 17 shots, dominated Detroit’s Rasheed Wallace in serving notice that he, Pierce and Ray Allen — All-Stars seeking their first trip to the NBA Finals — will not be denied.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive, trying to get the upper hand. Playing Rasheed is like looking in a mirror,” he said. “I’m trying to bust his butt like he’s trying to bust mine.
“The matchups are very similar. The styles are parallel,” he said.
Garnett scored 14 points in the first half and Pierce had nine to lead Boston to a 41-40 half-time lead. The Celtics pulled away in the third quarter, taking their largest lead to that point at 69-57 entering the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t get into our rhythm,” Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. “We didn’t play with great flow offensively. When we did we moved the ball and made some shots. We just weren’t consistent enough.”
Garnett took advantage of double-coverage by Detroit to find unguarded teammates and frustrate the Pistons defense.
“I have good communication with these guys. We have a good rhythm going on,” Garnett said. “If I’m aggressive I know at some time they have to double me. That’s when I can get some open shots for the teammates and get them the ball.”
Rodney Stuckey’s jump shot with 5:51 to play pulled the Pistons within 75-69 and Detroit remained within reach when Pierce hit a jumper and Rajon Rondo followed with another to boost Boston’s edge to 83-73 with 2:42 to play.
Rondo added a 3-pointer with 1:45 to play to put the Celtics ahead 86-75 and Pierce sank a jumper with 44 seconds remaining to give Boston an 88-76 edge, sealing Detroit’s fate.