for this game

Celtics top Pistons in defensive slugfest

Jan 31, 2009 - 4:31 AM By Chuck Klonke PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

AUBURN HILLS, Michigan (Ticker) -- The Boston Celtics are the only division leader the Detroit Pistons can't beat this season.

Kevin Garnett scored 22 points and Paul Pierce added 20 to boost Atlantic Division-leading Boston to its 10th straight win, an 86-78 victory over Detroit on Friday.

The victory was the third straight for the Celtics over the Pistons this season and assured them of winning the season series for the second year in a row.

Detroit is 5-0 when playing other teams leading their division this season, including victories against Cleveland, Orlando, San Antonio, Denver and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Garnett was prepared for a tough time against the Pistons, even though Detroit has struggled lately, dropping eight of its last 11 games.

"You know what you're going to get when you come in here. Nothing's going to be pretty," Garnett said. "Everything's going to be hard. It's going to be fought for. Everything you gain you're going to have to fight for. It's like coming into a bar on the other side of town.

"We know those guys like they know us, so when we meet up, it's going to be an all-out slugfest. Tonight was no different from that.

It was the seventh time this season the Celtics have never trailed in a game, although the contest was tied on three occasions.

Rodney Stuckey and Allen Iverson led Detroit with 19 points apiece. Iverson passed Charles Barkley to move into 16th place on the all-time scoring list in the contest.

Boston's Kendrick Perkins was ejected with 5:56 remaining in the fourth quarter for a flagrant 2 foul against Detroit's Jason Maxiell.

"I tried to foul him over the arm and he ducked his head," Perkins said. "I wasn't trying to hurt him, but I realize I can't do that."

On the possession following the flagrant foul, Richard Hamilton scored to cut Boston's lead to 71-67, but the Celtics got a basket from Glen Davis and a 3-pointer from Eddie House to extend their margin to nine points.

When Garnett hit a jumper from the top of the key with 4:02 left, Boston matched its biggest lead of the game at 78-67.

Baskets by Stuckey and Iverson brought Detroit within five, 80-75, with 1:42 left, but a turnover by Hamilton and a basket by Garnett increased the Celtics' cushion to 82-75 with 37

seconds to go. Pierce and Garnett each hit two free throws in the final 31 seconds to secure the victory.

Garnett said his teammates weren't making a conscious effort to go to him down the stretch.

"We have so many different options on this team, you're just trying to get into a flow," Garnett said. "We were trying to get Eddie House going, Paul going, Ray (Allen) going, hitting those guys in certain situations, like pick and rolls, and being aggressive to the basket."

Boston coach Doc Rivers was pleased with the fourth-quarter performance of the Celtics.

"The execution down the stretch was phenomenal," Rivers said. "We were out of timeouts, and I was really happy with our composure. I thought Pierce, down the stretch with his passing, won the game. He knew they were going to help (on defense). He sucked them in and he kept finding guys. That was huge."

Ray Allen was pleased to have a tight game. Boston's seven previous victories were by at least a 10-point margin.

"It was good to play a close game because when you keep winning by double digits, (the starters) are not in the game in the fourth quarter," Allen said. "We definitely need to get in the practice of playing tough games down the stretch."

Pistons coach Michael Curry said that Boston's runs in the first and third quarters were important.

"We gave them an 8-0 run and a 10-2 run," Curry said. "We knew coming in that this was going to be a possession basketball game. We can't allow them to go on runs like that. We have to break their runs - and we just didn't do that."

Detroit outscored Boston, 25-20, in the second quarter to trail, 43-41, at halftime. The Pistons used an 8-2 run to tie the game at 35-35 on a pair of free throws by Hamilton with 2:39 remaining in the half.

In the two previous meetings between last year's Eastern Conference finalists, the Celtics outscored Detroit by a combined 58-29 in the second quarter and went on to win both games.

Boston came out strong in the first quarter Friday, going ahead 21-10 on a 3-pointer by Pierce with 1:50 left in the period. The Pistons, who missed nine straight shots midway through the quarter, closed with a 6-2 spurt to cut the margin to 23-16 at the end of the quarter.

After Stuckey split a pair of free throws to open the second half, the Celtics responded with an 8-0 run to lead 51-42. The Pistons cut the margin to four points in the final minute of the quarter but a basket by Pierce sent Boston into the fourth quarter with a 62-56 advantage.

"We played good in spurts but against a team that good and that experienced we have to play good the whole game," Iverson said.