Lean and mean
Efficient Celtics punish Pistons behind Garnett
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — As if Richard Hamilton (foot), Chris Wilcox (hamstring), Will Bynum (hamstring), Jonas Jerebko (Achilles’ tendon), and Terrico White (foot) weren’t enough, the Celtics last night gave the Pistons reason enough to add another name to their injured list: Austin Daye (self esteem).
Yes, he was the 15th pick in the 2009 draft. Yes, he shot the 3-ball so well in the preseason Pistons coach John Kuester gave the 22-year-old the starting power forward job. And yet it was essentially understood that from the first possession the Celtics would sic Kevin Garnett on Daye so hard Deval Patrick could use it as a case for antibullying.
The assault began about a minute into the game. Garnett blew past Daye, got under the basket, and scooped up a reverse while absorbing a Daye foul, then cursed at himself as he saw it roll around the rim and out, costing him a chance at a 3-point play.
“I said just keep doing that,’’ Ray Allen said. “Whatever we do, just throw the ball in there and just make them make a decision.’’
From the opening minutes of the Celtics’ 109-86 win, Garnett treated Daye like a chew toy. Rajon Rondo put the ball in Garnett’s hands early and often, and Garnett scored 10 of his game-high 22 points in the first frame, using Daye as his early-season lab rat.
At times it looked like a one-on-one clinic, but Garnett insisted it was just business.
“It wasn’t clinical,’’ he said. “The young fella’s really good. He reminds me of myself when I was younger, plays the perimeter but has the potential to be a force. He just has to continue to put in the work, get his body together, continue to get better. He has a great IQ of basketball. I respect that. He works hard. He’s going to be all right.’’
Kuester pulled his dog out of the fight at 7:25 of the first in favor of Charlie Villanueva (a game-time decision with a sprained right ankle), but it didn’t end Garnett’s spree. He scored on four straight attempts in the quarter (a reverse, a couple jumpers, and an alley-oop finish). Daye finished with 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting, but by the end of the night, as the Celtics starters were putting the Pistons to bed, Villanueva was pulling the defensive duties on Garnett, as if Kuester was sparing Daye.
“Going into this game, the one thing that’s going to happen is no one is going to feel sorry for you,’’ Kuester said. “What has to occur is your attention to detail on all things that need to happen have to magnify because of the number of situations where guys are out. We have to collectively some way or somehow find another voice besides my own that’s going to lead us.’’
Whether it was from the floor or from the bench, the Pistons could hear Garnett’s voice booming. He finished with his second straight 20-point night after going for 24 and 10 rebounds against the Knicks. He grabbed a team-high six rebounds, as the Celtics let their offense revolve around him.
“We were going to go to Kevin anyway,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “And if we think we have an advantage, we’re going to go there even more. Kevin is such a great post player and they have to make a decision on trapping him or not.
“What I was happy with was the couple times they tried to trap, we got layups or open shots. That’s where we have to keep getting better because teams are going to try to take things away from you and when they do, you’ve got to make them pay.’’
Paul Pierce finished with 21 points and five rebounds, knocking down 3 of his 7 3-point attempts.
“How do they leave the 3-point champion wide-open in the corner?’’ Pierce asked with a grin.
Rondo continued to make absurd assists totals routine, adding another 17 to his season tally, including one in the third quarter on which he dribbled behind his back and dished to Garnett, who converted a tough finish over Tayshaun Prince.
The Celtics had their most efficient offensive night, funneling things through Garnett and spreading the ball around to the tune of 33 assists, hitting the number for the second straight night. They shot 52 percent from the floor (their highest clip in their four games this season) and held their turnovers to just eight (after averaging 19 in their first three games).
“That was a focus the last few days in practice,’’ Pierce said of the turnovers. “We were like, ‘If we’re going to shoot 50 percent and score all these points, we can’t turn the ball over.’ At times we’re our own worst enemy.’’
They were able to break up a stretch in which they had lost nine of 13 games at the Palace, using Garnett as the offense’s conduit.
“We try to establish Kevin every night,’’ Pierce said. “We saw it in training camp. He’s feeling good out here this year. When we were successful in ’08, that’s what we did: We played through Kevin. He opens up a lot of things when he gets his offense going and you saw it tonight.’’