Numbers left Garnett numb

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 23, 2008

If Kevin Garnett wiped his shaved head with his hand any more, he would have been touching gray matter.

He was staring hard at the box score after last night's 103-97 loss to the Pistons, and the numbers might as well have been line dancing on his last nerve.

He was making mental notes.

He saw his team's shooting percentage (48.6) jumping out at him, taunting.

"We shot 48 percent and we still lost the game," Garnett said.

He saw that Rip Hamilton sank 10 of 12 free throws.

"Nobody on our entire team had 12 free throws," Garnett said.

Garnett couldn't take his eyes off it.

"It's my first time looking at the score sheet so I try to at least let some of it be imprinted in my mind," he said.

They were numbers that usually side with the Celtics. And the look on his face - almost the grimace of disgust - showed how surprised he was at that those numbers.

"Little, small things like that add up in a game like this," he said. "It's a huge game, so that's what I'm looking at."

Those 103 points were by far the most the Pistons had scored on the Celtics in five games this season. It was the most against the Celtics since Cleveland scored 108 in Game 3. It was the fourth time the Celtics allowed 100 points in the playoffs, all losses. But the difference, at least in Hamilton's eyes, may be that the Pistons feel like they've cracked the code.

"Everybody knows what they do defensively, how they load up on the strong side," Hamilton said. "But I thought the thing that we did tonight that was different than Game 1 was that when we made cuts and we made moves, it was all in motion. It wasn't just like a guy got the ball on the wing, allowed them to set their defense, one guy in the corner - they're good at that."

What it was, Hamilton explained, was guys setting screens, making skip passes to the corners where players such as Tayshaun Prince were waiting for the chance to knock down open jump shots.

At one point in the fourth quarter, with the Celtics rallying, Hamilton sprinted along the baseline, with Ray Allen in pursuit. What Allen didn't notice, though, was the 6-foot-11-inch screen of Rasheed Wallace waiting in the corner. Hamilton used Wallace to slip by Allen. Wallace let Allen and his own defender stray to Hamilton, then fell back into the corner for a long 2-pointer that gave the Pistons a 96-90 lead.

Paul Pierce said the Celtics were rotating, just not fast enough.

"I thought we were a step slower than we were in Game 1," he 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."

The Celtics did make runs. Trailing by 7 at the half, Allen sparked an 11-4 run that tied it at 54. But every time they were within rallying distance, it was like they forgot how to get a stop.

The ball swung to Wallace in the corner for one 3-pointer, then Chauncey Billups pulled up over a stumbling Rajon Rondo for another, driving a stake into heart of the Celtics' momentum.

"I never thought we put as much pressure on them defensively as we did in the first game," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "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."

Pistons coach Flip Saunders looked like he knew his team could solve the Celtics in Game 2.

"We've got pretty intelligent guys that can adjust to situations," Saunders said. "Our guys are starting to understand a little bit how they help out."

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