2003-04 season game 4, Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons, Wednesday, Nov 5, 2003
The Celtics Beagle, hard at work on his next review.
Games like this one are very tough to lose.  The Celtics didn't get blown out, it was a close one most of the way.

But for the love of Peanuts, all Billups had to do was glance at the hoop and another three went in.  Someone needs to just slap Rick Pitino for letting Billups go--ah, metaphorically, that is.

C's fans, myself included, felt good coming into this game.  Boston had a few days off after watching the New Orleans Hornets dismantle the C's with a press to practice how to get the ball over halfcourt properly.  The Pistons are normally not what you'd call a great offensive team, and Eric Williams, thank goodness, had only a bone bruise from which he expects to recover in about 1-2 weeks.

I can't report on Gorman's and Heinsohn's comments, since DirecTV had the Detroit feed, But I do have a few comments for Fox Sports Net in general before we get to the game.

We know that "Master and Commander" is about to hit the theatres. We know that it's a Fox film.  I, for one, am well and truly tired of your obvious directive that the team broadcasters must somehow tie in a movie about warships in Napoleonic times with a basketball game today.  You went so far overboard that your Detroit team--in keeping with this pitiful attempt at a nautical theme--announced that the Celtics came from the Back Bay.

It's the North End, you Ship of Fools (that's a John Renbourn reference, if you care).

Also, your team in Detroit has the same problem as FSNE in Boston.  The one where they keep cutting to a slow motion replay at the expense of what's actually happening now.  If you want to replay everything we just saw, fine.  Cut down on the commercials and we'll watch happily.  Otherwise, let us watch the game in peace.  Now, let's hoist the Mains and heave to, heading for the stormy waters of the game.

See how annoying that is after one sentence?  Imagine how WE felt after several unending scenes of that.

Ok, rant over.

First Quarter:

The Celtics went with a starting lineup of Vin Baker and Kedrick Brown at Forward, Mike James and Paul Pierce at Guard, and Mark Blount at Center.  The Pistons sent forth Ben Wallace and Tayshaun Prince at Forward, Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton at Guard, and Elden Campbell at Center.

The opening tip--which took quite some time as the ref was apparently posing for pictures--was won by Wallace, though Blount made a valiant effort.  Pierce made a well-timed block and then came up with the loose ball, which he promptly passed upcourt to James.

James then tried to drive to the hoop, but Billups poked the ball away, which bounced off Mark Blount and right into the hands of Billups.  Chauncey launched a three--one of his few misses, and Wallace tipped the rebound, but the James snagged it and launched a great pass up to a zooming Kedrick Brown. 

I can't understand why things happened the way the did next.  Kedrick had his man beat, and was past the free throw line on his way to an easy two.  All he had to do was take it up strong and keep his back to his would-be defender.  But Kedrick never got any lift off the floor.  He ended up trying to lay it up and in as he went by the hoop.  That allowed his defender to foul him on the shot, which ended up a miss.

I KNOW that Kedrick CAN elevate.  But he did not, that time, not even close.  He was running hard, but his attempt at a any kind of altitude was a total failure.  There's something wrong with him, physically.  There HAS to be.  This wasn't confusion, or hesitation.  He was running and preparing to do what he'd been doing all preseason, leap over tall defenders in a single bound while pushing the ball through the hoop from above.  Nothing happened.

At least he made up for it at the free throw line, making both.  On the next trip up, Kedrick worked the land and got a nice hoop off a pass from Pierce.  But again, there was no real leaping evident on Brown's part.  Heck, CHARLIE Brown could have gone higher.

Well, you knew THAT was coming, right?  Celtics Beagle, and all?  Ok, ok.

The C's were now up 4-zip and we were a minute and a half into the quarter.  That's my kind of game so far.  The C's played good defense, but Prince hit a deep two over Pierce.  As this happened, the announcers were going on interminably about how Walker was no longer with Boston.

There's about 2 dozen teams we haven't played yet this season.  Are we going to hear that every time the opposing team gets the broadcast?  Mike and Tommy are looking better and better already.  :>)

Pierce got off another nice pass to Vin Baker, who nailed the jumper.  Comeback Player?  At the rate he's improving, he may end the season as an MVP candidate!  I know it's still a longshot now, but what's life without some long range goals?

As the Pistons brought it up, you could hear Coach O'Brien hollering a warning to the C's to watch for the back door play.  They did so, but Prince hit what was to become the Celtics' bane this night: the three point shot.  There must be something in the water, because suddenly, everyone's offense THIS season is just like Boston's was LAST season.  Lots of one-and-done threes.  The main difference is these guys are hitting them at an absolutely ridiculous rate.

Pierce then got an open look from the free throw line, hitting the kind of shot we'd all like to see more often. 

Mark Blount then got the ball and passed it up to Mike James.  James got it to Baker.  Vin got stuffed by Wallace, and went to the line.  Why is it, by the way, that everyone on the C's can make the long pass upcourt except the point guards?  Anyway, Vinnie hit both free throws.

Blount then intercepted a pass and the C's were off and running once more.  Pierce made a great pass to baker, who was totally alone on his side of the court for an easy hoop.  Then Kedrick got called for what I thought was kind of a cheap foul.  But Brown looked a bit down on himself. 

On the next play, Blount gave Billups what could easily have been called a hard foul.  Mark has a very physical game, but his habit of swinging that arm down is going to get him in hot water if he's not careful. Yet, on the next trip up, Mark showed restraint--and patience, as Battie made a VERY dangerous pass cross court to Pierce, whose subsequent shot looked queasy at the hoop. Blount got in perfect position for the cleanup rebound, but was careful not to interfere, as the ball bounced gently through the hoop.

This made it 14-7 in favor of the Good Guys with 7:23 left in the quarter.

The C's defense looked quite good throughout, with strong help defense and quick hands.  The offense was looking good, as passes were crisp and players took good shots.  The general good feelings on the court were marred only as Kedrick picked up his second foul and sat.  Welsch came out and immediately got scored on by Hamiltion. 

But James got stripped as he got caught waving the ball around with co clear plan what to do.  This led to a fast two for the Pistons.  James was reading the court better than the last game, but still has a ways to go.

The C's defense was generally good, though, forcing Detroit to the outside.  At the other end, Jiri Welsch nailed a three on a nice kick out pass from Pierce.  Pierce had taken the ball into the lane and saw the triple team closing in on him from the hoop side--plus a fourth defender coming up from behind.  Welsch was all alone at the arc, so Pierce sent the ball over to keep him company.  For his part, Jiri launched the ball like he was Danny Ainge, and got the same result. Well, the result Ainge used to get in later years, not in his rookie season.  :>)

Then, James had one of those good plays/bad plays that have plagued him.  He dribbled the ball hard and fast upcourt--well, if he's not going with the long pass, at least he runs quickly.  That was good.  The bad part was, he dribbled right into a double team and got stripped.  Battie was open at the free throw line.  a crisp bounce pass would have turned to an easy two from Battie, who had room.  James was obviously trying to draw a foul, but with 15 seconds left on the shot clock, that's not the time to try a suicide offense.

Belatedly, he tried to pass the ball out from under the hoop back to Tony, who was still at the free throw line.  The problem was, now Ben Wallace was in front of Battie instead of several steps behind and James did not make a bounce pass.  Wallace barely had to leave his feet to take the pass.  Battie ended up having to commit a deliberate foul to prevent the easy hoop at the other end.

For the second time tonight that I noticed, Vin called for the ball when he was pretty far away from the hoop.  And, for the second time, from that range, he missed.  Vin has a great shot inside of about 12 feet.  Further out, it's more iffy.  I'd prefer him down low and let someone else launch deeper shots.

Speaking of deep shots, James launched ANOTHER three with 15 seconds left, and both Raef and Jiri open at the other side of the arc.  Pierce was four feet in front of him and in position to take the ball on a give and go.  But no, he saw fit to rise and shoot the three, which clanged up off the front of the rim, rebounded off the backboard, and ended up in the hands of the Pistons.

Next time up, James was much smarter.  He drove in, then kecked out the ball to Welsch--who SHOULD have shot the three, and didn't.  Waah.  James snagged the rebound, and this time, the three was the right shot to take, as the Detroit defense was now set.  It didn't fall, but it was a better decision.

Pierce would then split the defense beautifully, and made a goaltended basket.  Larry Brown wasn't happy with it, but I went frame by frame from two angles.  It was goaltending.  The ball was on the downward arc, barely, but it was.  At the other end, Pierce drew a charge.  then back to offense, and Pierce kicked the ball to Welsch, who was backing up so far, I thought his heels were on the sideline when he caught it.  It was a good attempt, but missed.

The C's defense kept Detroit from getting their running game going with any continuity, and despite the ill-considered shot selection in some places, the C's were holding the lead.  Banks got stripped as he tried bringing the ball up.  I saw an indication of how ineffective Banks was when on the next offensive set he did not touch the ball.  In fact, the ball clearly stayed on the opposite side of wherever he was.  Raef sent the ball inbounds, with Banks and Welsch equally available on opposite sides.  Jiri Welsch was chosen to bring the ball up.  Battie and Welsch passed the pumpkin back and forth at the top of he key.  Raef ended up taking a shot that was partially deflected and Jiri took the rebound.  Detroit committed the foul, and Waltah! sent the ball back into play.  Only then did Banks get the ball at the top of the key.  He made an outside-to outside pass to Jumaine Jones, who got it into Battie for two.

Yes, I said "Jumaine Jones".

He had just come into the game whilst Waltah! was preparing to put the ball into play.  As recently as this afternoon, I figured he wasn't even going to be available until next week.  But there he was, in the game.  Banks redeemed himself on the next trip up when he zoomed to the hoop, blowing past the defense who fouled the rush of green wind that passed by them, and made the shot though he missed the subsequent free throw.

The C's defense was caught napping on the way back as Williamson made the kind of basket that Baker's been making hay with.  Banks replied as the defense fell totally away from him and dared him to take the open three.

Oops.  Banks can hit that shot, when he has time to set himself.

Billups followed a great shot with a dumb foul that sent Banks to the line.  Marcus' free throw form looked good as he made both.  The first quarter ended with the Good Guys leading it, 30-23.

For all of what might be perceived as nitpicking on my part, The C's had a positive first quarter.  It was a gigantic improvement over the last couple of meetings with the Pistons.  The C's did a much better job of getting the ball up against the press, and the passing overall was much better.


Second Quarter:

The C's opened up with strong defense and the Pistons still hit their first shot of the quarter.  Banks still has more trouble than James getting the ball up against the press, but at least he didn't look like he's wandered into the building by accident tonight.  Jumaine Jones got his first points as a Celtic player on a cleanup rebound.  Boston wasn't playing Jones at Point Guard, they were just working him into the lineup.

Then Jones showed how healthy he was as he went up high for the defensive rebound, executed a 180-degree turn in midair and came down running on the break.

Yeah, I'd say his legs are felling better now.

The left Jones open at the other end as they tripled Pierce, so Paul tossed him the ball.  James' three was short off the front rim, but his follow-through looked good.  I'm cutting him slack because he missed ALL of the preseason, and the first three games of the regular season.  He will need some time to get it together physically.

The C's ran fast, but not well, as Pierce got the ball poked away from him.  It seems that the Good Guys ARE running, but just not quite fast enough to really beat the defense on a consistent basis.  They have a ways to go, yet.

Jones was sent flying as he tried to block the path top the hoop, and nothing was called.  This was going to be a problem for Boston, as a number of Detroit transgressions would go unremarked throughout the game.  The saving grace was that the Pistons were really pitiful at the free throw line.

Raef wasn't ready for Ben Wallace to run the baseline, and ended up fouling from behind.  Ok, no one else was ready for that one, either.

The Pistons then began heating up from the three point line as Williamson put one down.  Detroit's defense also tightened up considerably, as the C's were not able to make the fast moves to the basket that had been a hallmark of the opening quarter.

Boston did their work on defense, but when Okur starts hitting deep jumpers, you know things are not going as well as they might.  The Pistons did occasionally leave Pierce open, a two point mistake in this case.  With 6:52 left in the half, the Celtics led 38-33 as timeout was called.

From the start of the quarter, the Pistons had outscored the C's 10-8.  That was NOT what I wanted to see.  But the C's offense slowly got back on track, though Pierce missed a play--he was doubled near the elbow of the arc, a teammate was open at the top who had an easy pass straight down the lane to Vin, if they moved fast enough.  Instead he opted for a pass back to Battie near the corner.  Tony missed, and Vin just couldn't get the rebound as he was obviously pushed out of bounds from behind.  No call, of course.  But Williamson got brushed slightly a few moments later, and went to the line--again.

This bit of officiating idiocy gave the Pistons the lead at 37-36, and brought the crown back into it.

James apparently thought he was the second coming of Cousy as he tried to dribble through more traffic than the Big Dig, ending up without the ball.  Detroit made two off that.  Then Blount got the ball to Baker under the hoop at the other end, and Vin somehow twisted so he faced the hoop and put it in. 

Shortly afterward, Vin grabbed a rebound despite being elbowed by a defender, and either a) spun beautifully away from a second defender, who flopped to no avail, or b) made a GREAT hip check before sinking the basket.  Either way, nice move.  That put Vin in double figures for the night.

I might add that Jumaine Jones spent an extended amount of time on the floor in the second quarter, pretty cool for a guy not expected to play until next week.  But I think overall, the C's were realizing this game was going to be harder than the first quarter made it look.

But Mike James was the recipient of a pass off a turnover that landed an easy to as he zoomed upcourt.  I was hoping we'd see a lot more of that.  On the bad side, James does not handle a pressured double well at all.  He tends to lose the ball.  Worse, that generally happens far enough out that a fast break is inevitable.  But he made a dumb play when he could only be loosely described as having control of the ball on one quick trip upcourt.  As he allegedly kept up with the ball, he then tried to pass it in to Jones, but Billups was right THERE, and easily picked off the pass.  The Detroit announcers were eager to point out the C's turnovers, only to see the Pistons throw it out of bounds before the echo died.

On the last play of the half, with time running out, Vin got a rebounded miss that he had to flip up behind his back in the general direction of the hoop.  Considering the circumstances, it was a pretty darned good try.  Even so, as halftime came, Vin had 12 points on 5-7 shooting and 2-2 free throws.  The C's lead in general was now 54-45.


HALFTIME:

So far, so good was the sum of it.  The C's had started to stomp the Pistons, but Detroit came back to make a game of it.  Now the C's were poised once more to begin stomping.  What had threatened to be a low-scoring second quarter became quite respectable by the time the teams took their halftime break.

All the C's had to do was come out roaring in the third, and somehow defend the three a little better without sacrificing their interior defense.  Also, the had to be careful that the Pistons didn't gain confidence in the pressure defense against the C's.  Basically, the Celtics had to run like there was no tomorrow.


Third Quarter:

Kedrick Brown came back in to start the quarter and committed an offensive foul.  This is going to sound mean, but Kedrick is starting to remind me of Vin last year.  No lift in his legs, silly fouls, and quick to get down on himself.  Though I'm still of the opinion there's an injury we aren't being told about.  Kedrick isn't a GREAT player, but he's a good player, and certainly better then the last couple of games have been showing.

Trouble was quickly brewing as Detroit's defense tightened and their offense spread out more.  The Pistons were doing exactly what I was afraid of, while the C's not getting good shots when they moved the ball around.

Boston was obviously starting to look frustrated.  They are an emotional team this year, with players more ready to show what they're feeling on a play.  But Pierce was working hard, making two more free throws to bring the C's lead back up to nine points.

But that's when the universe went "Squeak", and the Pistons began hitting outside jumpers and threes.  It was exactly what happened in New Orleans.  The other team hits threes at a nearly unprecedented rate, and the C's offense, now moving away from the three, cannot keep up.

Baker did his best, making a nice low post move for two, but even though the C's defense was holding up well, the Pistons made some great offensive plays.

One thing I noticed had changed for Boston--different people were taking it out of bounds, instead of always waiting for he Point Guard to do it.  That helped a bit, but not enough as the C's offense was growing cold, and the Piston's defense was smothering at times.

Someday, they're going to put a stop to that ridiculous gong sound that happens whenever Ben Wallace makes a basket, a rebound, or a funny face at the crowd.

With 4:37 left in the third, the score was now tied at 62 as time was called.

Battie then made a GREAT block, but the Pistons got the rebound and ended up with--yep, another three.

Last year, everyone in the NBA blasted Obie and the C's for relying on the three.  Now, everyone else is shooting without a care.

Jiri Welsch went to the floor to go after a loose ball, but he had no help, and wasn't able to do it alone.  Pierce then went to the hoop to make two back--his first two points of the third quarter!  I know he's working on his passing game, but I wouldn't be all that upset if he fine tuned his scoring game too.

Banks went end to end at top speed and drew a foul.  He made both.  He went back again to close the quarter, making both then, too.  The third quarter ended with Detroit leading it, 73-70.


Fourth Quarter:

There was a short scare as the final quarter opened, Atkins of Detroit turned his ankle a bit.  It was painful, but apparently ok, as he stayed on the floor.  Vinnie took it to Ben Wallace and silenced the gong with two points in Ben's face.

It was obvious that Obie knows about the clock-challenged nature of some of his guys as he was hollering out the count as Welsch tried to make something happen.  Well, an offensive foul IS "something", but probably not what his coach had in mind.  Danny Ainge was watching the play, looking pensive, possibly wondering,  "If I get a shaggy wig, and grab Jiri's uniform, maybe no one will notice."  :>)

Raef put the C's back in front with a good three.  Vin was starting to look tired, hunched over, and picking his spots a little bit.  God knows he'd been giving it his all tonight.  He ended up with the ball and an outlet pass that resulted in a fast break basket for the C's.  There are moments--brief ones--when I think Baker makes a better point guard than Banks or James.  But now the Good Guys were back in front, 76-73, with 9:37 left in the game as time was called.

Frustratingly, the Pistons came out of the timeout with an old-fashioned three point play opportunity, but missed the free throw once more.  Pierce nearly had a good pass to Baker in the corner, but Baker was unable to drag 230 pounds of defender that had grabbed him as he moved toward the ball.  Alas, no call.

Then Billups really started cooking, launching another three that went in.  There was a weird play by Baker that I don't get.  He was down low against Okur and waved his hand in a quick circular motion in front of Okur's face, but his fingers were cupped and he swiped Okur's face twice--while standing directly in front of the ref, who could have literally reached out and touched both men without extending his arm.  Nothing was called--amazingly--and Okur seemed to be ok.  A makeup call was made on the next play against Vin.

The C's now had to play catch up, and with Billups hitting threes the way I eat chocolate chip cookies, that was going to be a problem.  Between that, the fact that the Pistons seemed to come up with every loose ball despite strong effort by Boston--and some questionable officiating at times--the Pistons were managing to stay ahead throughout.  Boston never was able to make it happen, and the game ended with a Detroit victory, 96-88.

Tough to lose, because overall, the C's played well enough that they could have won this game.  Once more, they got burned by a ridiculous percentage of made threes, abetted by a ludicrous disparity in free throws.  Detroit's defense was very good at times, but the C's did a comparatively better job of breaking it.  And, those threes--Detroit as a team shot 44%.  Prince alone was 4-4, outside, and Billups was 4-8.  Crazy stuff.

Cookies and Crumbs:

Cookies go to:

Vin Baker: 20 points on 9-14 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2-2 at the free throw line, while playing 35 minutes.  Heck, TWO cookies.

Paul Pierce: 20 points on 8-19 shooting, 7 rebounds, 10 assists,  a steal and a block and he was also 4-4 at the line.  He just missed two cookies on his shooting percentage.

Jumaine Jones:  Came back early, played well with 4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists,  2 steals and a block.


Crumbs left for:

Marcus Banks: ZERO assists from a Point Guard???  Bleah.

Waltah! McCarty: Not very lovable.  Didn't hurt the team, but didn't do anything to help and they NEED help.

The officials:  Bleah, bleah, bleah.

Stale crumb:

Rick Pitino: You booted out Chauncey Billups, AAUGH!!!

Well, the C's get to go home and face the New Jersey Nets on Friday at 7:30pm.  No rest for the weary.

And that's the view from the doghouse.