As Paul Pierce walked off the court last night at TD Banknorth Garden feeling different than he has been accustomed to at home in the playoffs, he said loudly, so his teammates could hear, "Don't worry about it. There's a lot more basketball to play."
To ensure that, the Celtics must win on the road now.
The Celtics lost their first postseason game at home, a 103-97 decision in Game 2 to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge for us, being that we haven't won a road game," said Pierce, who scored a game-high 26 points. "But I don't think it's really bothering us psychologically."
With the best-of-seven series tied, the next two games will be in Detroit, starting tomorrow night. The Celtics are 0-6 in the postseason on the road, and the Pistons are 5-1 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Celtics did win at Detroit, 92-85, in their lone regular-season appearance Jan. 5.
"There's going to come a time where we've got to get one, and we've finally come up front, you know, with that dilemma," said Kevin Garnett, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds. "We've got to find some way to win one on the road, and that's what it is."
Detroit had not scored 90 points in all four previ ous contests against the Celtics. But last night, the Pistons got their offense rolling, shooting 49.3 percent, nailing 5 of 10 3-pointers, and hitting 28 of 32 free throws. The Celtics got torched by Detroit's guards. Rip Hamilton scored 25 points, Chauncey Billups had 19 points and seven assists, and rookie Rodney Stuckey added 13 points and three assists. Six Pistons scored in double figures.
"I thought we were a step slower than we were in Game 1," Pierce said. "I think they did a great job at getting the ball from strong side to weak side because we're a strong-side defense. So it was tough once they reversed the ball and made us rotate those guys. We were a step late and those guys knocked down shots."
Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers: "I never thought we put as much pressure defensively on them as we did in the first game. Usually when we shoot 49 percent and score 97 points, we win games. Tonight our defense just wasn't as good as it's been."
The Celtics' All-Star trio of Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen (25 points) was hot offensively, but the rest of the team combined for 6-of-17 shooting from the field. The bench scored only 8 points.
The Pistons entered halftime with a 50-43 lead after shooting 51.5 percent from the field. Three Pistons scored in double figures in the first half: Hamilton (15), Billups (11), and Antonio McDyess (11).
Pierce scored 15 points on 4-of-9 shooting in the first half and Garnett added 12 on 5-of-8 shooting. The Celtics missed 12 of 18 field goal attempts in the second quarter and shot 39.4 percent for the half. The Celtics received only 3 points on 1-of-7 shooting from the bench in the first half. The Celtics also missed 7 of 9 3-point attempts by intermission, allowed 10 points off four turnovers, and had zero fast-break points.
The Celtics opened the third quarter with an 11-4 run, finalized by a Garnett putback to tie the score at 54 at the 8:35 mark. Allen, who has been struggling with his jumper, nailed a midrange shot with 9:10 left in the third and pumped his fist. An Allen jumper gave the Celtics a 58-54 lead with 6:32 left in the third.
But a 12-2 run, which included three 3-pointers, gave Detroit a 66-60 lead with 4:37 left in the third. The Pistons finished the quarter leading, 78-69.
"We knew that the Celtics are going to make their run, but we just had to fight back," Stuckey said. "They made the run early and we did ours late and it paid off."
The Celtics used a 17-10 run to trim their deficit to 88-86 after an Allen 3-pointer with 5:09 left in the fourth. Boston, however, got no closer. Billups's reverse lay-in on an inbounds pass with 18.7 seconds left gave Detroit a 100-97 lead.
"It's about our defense," Rivers said. "We didn't have a great defensive night tonight."
Allen nailed a high-arcing 3-pointer with 10.7 seconds left to bring the Celtics within 100-97. But Wallace was fouled and nailed two free throws with 10.2 seconds left to seal the game and send the Pistons home with home-court advantage.
"It's going to be crazy," Hamilton said. "We've got the best fans in the NBA. Everybody knows about The Palace at Auburn Hills. Our fans are excited and now it's our job to go and take care of home court."
Said Rivers: "Now we have to go out on the road and win a game, so that's what we'll do."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com