AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Big Three were brought down to size last night.
The Celtics fell, 94-75, to the Pistons in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals last night at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The best-of-seven series is now tied at 2-2 with Game 5 tomorrow night in Boston. The Celtics' All-Star trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen was limited to 43 points and 6 assists. Boston is now 1-7 on the road in the postseason.
"It's always disappointing," said Allen about the offensive struggles. "I think we pride ourselves on making our teammates better and allowing them to make us better. There's a point where you just have to make the simple play.
"Making the simple play, letting somebody else, you cover a little space and then you make that pass out, and you can live with that offense all day long. Just too frequently throughout the game we put ourselves in situations where I think we had some good shots, but I think we could have got better shots."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers simply said, "They didn't play great."
Garnett, Pierce, and Allen had been averaging a combined 53 points in 17 playoff contests. But last night, they combined for 11-of-38 shooting from the field.
The biggest surprise was Garnett. He was averaging a team-best 24 points in this series but missed 10 of 16 shots to finish with 16 points, while grabbing 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.
"Kevin had shots that he normally makes and didn't make them," Rivers said. "I just thought he didn't have shots when we wanted to get him the ball."
Pierce, who averaged 19.7 points in the previous three games, was limited to 16 on 3-of-14 shooting, though he made 10 free throws. Allen entered averaging 16 points but missed 6 of 8 shots (all three 3-point attempts) and finished with 11 points.
The Celtics shot playoff lows of 31.8 percent from the field and 11.1 percent from 3-point range (1 of 9). They stayed in the game by making playoff bests of 32 free throws on 39 attempts.
Pistons forward Antonio McDyess earned game highs of 21 points and 16 rebounds while guard Rip Hamilton added 20 points and 7 assists. Detroit shot 51.4 percent from the field and had five players score in double figures.
"They always leave me, for some reason," McDyess said. "They're a big help team on the strong side, and the weak side is always open. I just try to get to the open areas and knock down the shot."
Said Garnett, "It wasn't about their defense. Their offense was more sound tonight. They were more aggressive."
On the way to their first road victory, the Celtics had opened Game 3 with an 11-0 start. But the Pistons reversed the script last night with a 10-0 start, including 8 points from McDyess.
After missing their first six field goal attempts, the Celtics got their first basket on a Kendrick Perkins reverse layin with 8:05 left in the quarter. They finished the first with a 7-4 run to close within 22-17.
"Offensively, we never got into the beginning of the game," Garnett said. "[Detroit] is too good to spot 10 points."
Said Pistons coach Flip Saunders, "We set the tone early and we finished with the same type of intensity."
The Celtics entered halftime down, 43-39, after shooting 36.7 percent from the field. Garnett had 6 points on 2-of-6 shooting, Pierce 9 on 1-of-6 shooting. Allen had 4 points.
The three combined for 16 points in the third quarter, but the Pistons outscored Boston, 22-19, to take a 65-58 lead. It was only that close because James Posey nailed an off-balance jumper at the buzzer.
Detroit finished the game with a 14-2 run en route to the 19-point margin of victory.
But the Celtics had several opportunities to make a run at the Pistons in the fourth quarter. They cut it to 5 points on five occasions, the last time with 4:51 left on a Pierce layin.
But after the Celtics failed to score on two straight possessions, Rasheed Wallace nailed two free throws with 3:23 left to push Detroit ahead, 80-73 - and fouled out Perkins (10 points, 6 rebounds) in the process. Chauncey Billups sealed the victory by nailing a 3-pointer with 2:55 left to give his team a 10-point lead (83-73).
"We got some stops, got to within 5, and that was pretty much the extent of it," Allen said.
The Celtics still have home-court advantage, as the series comes down to best of three. But the Pistons are 2-1 at TD Banknorth Garden this season, including a Game 2 victory.
"It's almost like 0-0 again, it's a three-game series," Allen said. "We've got to protect our home court. We lost the last game at home, and definitely are going to have to win on their court for us to send a message or definitely move on."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at email@example.com.