for this game

Garnett's season-high 31 lifts Celtics over Pistons

Mar 6, 2008 - 5:26 AM By Tony Lee PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer BOSTON (Ticker) -- If the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons meet in the Eastern Conference finals, the Pistons might want to do something about the Celtics' big men.

Kevin Garnett scored 20 of his season-high 31 points in the first half and Kendrick Perkins grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds as Boston took the season series between the conference heavyweights with a 90-78 victory on Wednesday night.

Rajon Rondo added 16 points for the Celtics (47-12), who - with their sixth straight victory - became the first team in the league to clinch a playoff spot, one season after going 24-58.

They also improved to 4-0 on a five-game homestand and opened a five-game lead in the loss column over the Pistons (44-17) for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

"This was a big game for us man, you know to win this, we have the top record," Garnett said. "It's just a big game."

"Last year, it would've been a parade," Boston coach Doc Rivers said of clinching a postseason berth.

Boston, which won two of three meetings between the teams this season, never trailed and kept alive a theme of interior dominance in the series. Garnett had 26 points in the first meeting, rookie forward Glen Davis notched a season-high 20 in the second and Perkins recorded his second double-double of the season Wednesday.

The tone was set immediately Wednesday.

Garnett scored Boston's first four points to spark a game-opening 15-3 burst and scored 12 straight Celtics' points in the second to help his team to a 47-37 halftime lead.

"I was in the flow early and I just never looked back," said Garnett, who played more than 40 minutes for the first time since November 27 and posted his best scoring night since March 10 of last year.

The 11-time All-Star is nine games removed from a nine-game layoff with an abdominal muscle.

"I think he is back to normal and his conditioning is back, his timing is back," Boston coach Doc Rivers said of Garnett. "He was good, he was great for us tonight."

With Garnett resting early in the fourth, Detroit managed to even things up at 69-69 on a basket by Tayshaun Prince.

Garnett returned a minute later and immediately scored five straight points to put the Celtics ahead to stay. The Pistons cut the deficit to 78-77 on a jumper by Richard Hamilton with 5:38 to go, but failed to record another field goal as the hosts closed on a 12-1 run.

"Nah, wasn't no running out of steam (in the fourth)," Detroit forward Rasheed Wallace said of his team's late swoon. "We just missed some shots in the fourth quarter."

Wallace was not pleased with a handful of foul calls, including two on him in an eight-second span that got the crowd going and sparked the Celtics' closing push.

However, Detroit coach Flip Saunders pointed to execution as a problem in crunch time.

"Part of the problem I have is that when things start going south our guys think they can do it better themselves," Saunders said. "We don't have those type of players. Our players are geared towards somebody else making a play for somebody. That's how this team was built."

Paul Pierce opened the surge with a 3-pointer and later added a layup on a feed from Rondo. As the Pistons missed six straight shots, the cramped TD Banknorth Garden grew louder, finally erupting when Garnett rifled a pass to Perkins for a dunk and a 90-78 advantage with 73 seconds left.

Pierce chipped in 15 points for Boston, which held a 50-38 rebounding advantage and attempted just eight 3-pointers. Ray Allen was just 1-of-9 from the floor and missed all of his tries from the arc.

Wallace and Chauncey Billups scored 23 points apiece as the Pistons lost for just the second time in their last nine visits to Boston.