Suddenly, it didn’t seem quite at all like it supposed to.
Under the cozy confines of the TD Banknorth Garden – the new Boston Garden – the Boston Celtics suddenly looked very much human on their home court.
They had not lost there all playoffs: four wins against Atlanta, four more against Cleveland, and a win in the opening game of this series against the Pistons. They had not lost at home since March 24, nearly two months prior.
They had not allowed their opponents to score 100+ on their floor in any of their playoff games. They held Cleveland to an average of 81.5 points a game and Atlanta to just 77 points.
But on Thursday night at the Garden, the Pistons came away with a tough 103-97 win over the Celtics, despite the best efforts of Ray Allen.
In one of his best nights in recent memory, Allen found his stroke in the second half and led several Celtics rallies. In one inspired stretch, he hit a long three, then a 14-foot jumper – cutting the Pistons lead to two.
But as strong as Allen was, however, Rip Hamilton was just as clutch. Driving to the basket, Hamilton hit a one-handed floater as the shot clock expired, giving the Pistons a two-possession lead late in the fourth. Not a play that’s likely to be seen many highlight tapes, but it was a dagger to the Celtics defence, which couldn’t make stops when they had to.
But Allen was far from done. He hit a three with 10 seconds to play, cutting the lead to three. He would finish the night with 22 points, 12 of them in the fourth quarter, a huge increase from his nine points in game one.
But the Pistons managed to spread the ball around well – six players had 10 or more points. Rookie Rodney Stuckey had 13 points in just 16 minutes of play. Rasheed Wallace had 13 points and 10 boards. Hamilton led the team with 25 points.
It was their ball movement that helped them beat the Celtics. Their defence was hard-pressed at times to keep up the Pistons ball movement – and the Pistons took this for all they could.
After being down by two at the end of the first, the Pistons exploded in a 32 point second quarter and led by seven at the half.
In the third quarter, the Celtics rallied back and led by as many as four before the Pistons again went on a run and finished the quarter leading by nine.
Despite a late rally in the fourth, the Celtics couldn’t close the gap and found themselves on the losing side of the box score.
So now, for the first time, the Celtics are behind the eight ball. They cannot just rely on their home court advantage to win a series, like they did against Atlanta and Cleveland.
Instead, the Pistons won a hard-fought game on the road, and signaled this is not going to be an easy win for the Celtics.
And as the series shifts to the Palace, the advantage now lies with Detroit.