BOSTON -- Chauncey Billups has had enough big moments in his career that he knew exactly what he wanted to do against a younger player.
Billups, who scored 12 of his team-high 28 points in the final quarter, was fouled by Tony Allen. On the previous possession, Billups' turnover gave the Celtics a chance to grab the lead.
After Paul Pierce missed a shot from the left baseline and Rasheed Wallace grabbed the rebound before calling time out with 1.7 seconds left, Billups then talked with teammate Richard Hamilton about what to do if they collected the inbounds pass.
"I knew there was enough time to get a pump fake, if I didn't have a clean look and I saw him running at me," said Billups, in his 11th season and a member of Detroit's 2004 championship team. "That's why I was so mad that I blew the first one."
With the Pistons up 85-82, Billups attempted to isolate Tony Allen, but lost the ball and Kevin Garnett stole it with 5.1 seconds left.
The Celtics (20-3) had matched their best start ever, also achieved by the 1963-64 team that eventually won the NBA title. Boston had won its first 12 home games, its most since a club-record 17 by the 1957-58 squad.
"Chauncey's one of the best clutch players in the league," Boston's Garnett said. "You know the clock's winding down. You don't put it on one person. We have to roll on."
Hamilton added 21 points for Detroit in a matchup of the Eastern Conference's top teams. Antonio McDyess added 13 points and 10 rebounds. Wallace had 13 boards.
Garnett led the Celtics with 26 points, and Ray Allen, who returned after missing the last two games because of a sore right ankle, had 24, including a tying 3-pointer with 18.9 seconds to play.
"It's a good lesson for our guys," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "In shootaround I had to get on them today about paying attention. One of the things we kept saying is 'Chauncey Billups pump fakes."'
The Pistons held a 85-79 lead after Billups' fallaway jumper with 3:34 to play, but Eddie House and Ray Allen hit consecutive 3-pointers to tie it.
Lindsey Hunter's 3-pointer 2:18 into the final quarter gave the Pistons their first lead, 68-67, since the opening minutes. Detroit forced Boston into some tough, contested jumpers and converted a pair of breakaway layups in scoring 10 of the next 14 points to move ahead 78-71 with 5:58 to play.
The matchup featured the league's top two defensive teams and lived up to its billing. In the opening minutes, both teams found that driving to the paint would be continually challenged and were forced to rely on jumpers.
"It was playoff-intense, pretty aggressive out there," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "I would say, by far, it was the most aggressive game this season, with all five guys going against each other. It got a little bit chippy, so it was a little bit playoff-like atmosphere."
Detroit, which had trouble working the ball into Boston's interior, was 9-of-20 from 3-point range.
- For the second consecutive night, the arena hosted the Eastern Conference's two top teams in their leagues. On Tuesday night in the NHL, Ottawa beat Boston 3-2.
- Rivers was whistled for a technical midway into the second quarter.
- Rivers wasn't about to buy into any "big game" talk before the contest. "It's December 19th," he said. "Detroit's had much bigger games the past four, five years."
- The Pistons have won 14 of the last 15 games against Boston.
- Red Sox DH David Ortiz was seated courtside wearing a Ray Allen jersey.
- Boston C Kendrick Perkins appeared to forget where he was supposed to be on the floor for the final possession and Rivers screamed down the bench looking for him.