BOSTON -- Sitting in a back room deep in the crevices of the TD Banknorth Garden prior to tip-off, Pistons president Joe Dumars knew this was a big game regardless that it was just Dec. 19.
|Chauncey Billups and the Pistons showcase their experience vs. Boston. (AP)|
"You sit back and you watch, you evaluate for down the road," Dumars said, extending his finger in front of his face. "That's what this type of game is about. A little bigger, but for later. For later."
The battle between the early Eastern Conference front-runners lived up to the billing, won 87-85 by Detroit on a pair of free throws by Chauncey Billups, who drew a foul on Tony Allen with 0.1 seconds remaining.
It featured the Celtics taking control early, Detroit's defense evening things up and eventually putting it ahead late, followed by a spirited Boston comeback fueled by 3-pointers from Eddie House and Ray Allen in the final minute to tie it up at 85-all.
It featured lesson after lesson -- for later.
Starting at the very end, it was clear that Detroit was far more prepared for the situation to escalate to where it did, with chaos breaking out after Rasheed Wallace called for a timeout to help set up the Pistons' game-winning play. Coming out of the timeout, Kendrick Perkins had no idea where to go, which had head coach Doc Rivers screaming frantically to try and get him in position.
Meanwhile, Detroit knew exactly what it was going to do.
Coach Flip Saunders ran a play he burned Boston with two years ago that led to a Rip Hamilton game-winning shot with 0.8 seconds remaining, calling for a screen to free up Billups just above the free-throw line. Coming out of the timeout Tayshaun Prince told Hamilton that if Tony Allen wound up on him, to try and get him up in the air with a pump fake.
"That's who they are," Rivers said when remarking on Detroit's poise. "I mean, even their last play. It's a good lesson for our guy.
"In shoot-around I had to get on them today about paying attention. And one of the things we kept saying is 'Chauncey Billups pump-fakes, Chauncey Billups pump-fakes.' And Chauncey Billups pump-faked his way into getting a foul."
Tony Allen will likely be the defender who will draw the Billups assignment in late-game situations because the veteran Pistons point guard did what he wanted to -- as he usually does in the fourth quarter -- against Rajon Rondo, shooting 4-for-6 and getting where he wanted to on the court, be it getting shots for himself or teammates.
When Rondo wasn't compromised by foul trouble, he had no problem standing up to Billups. In fact, he was the reason for Boston's early lead, hitting seven of nine first-half shots by using his quickness and length to counter Billups' strength. That said, he's not going to become a fifth-year guard in four months, meaning he's out of luck when it comes to getting calls against an established star who has a Finals MVP trophy.