End of game, Celtics win 96-85: This will be remembered as the game when Paul Pierce returned, but just as importantly it was the game in which Jermaine O'Neal finally made an impact.
The 33-year-old center had 19 points, seven rebounds and blocked two shots in 28:36 of playing time, leading the Celtics to their first victory of the season. He committed five fouls, but unlike in other games those fouls weren't early calls that kept him from being effective for most of the game.
Pierce raised some eyebrows with how well he played in his first game of the season. The 34-year-old forward had 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting and contributed five assists, which tied with Rajon Rondo for the team lead.
Brandon Bass posted another strong effort off the bench. He led all Celtics reserves with 17 points, which tied Ray Allen for the second-most on the team. Allen, who shouldered a lot of the scoring load in the three games Pierce missed, seemed more in the flow of Boston's usual offense and didn't force as many off-balance 3's as he did in the first three games.
Pistons center Greg Monroe scored 22 points, his most since last April against the Wizards. He also pulled down nine rebounds in 33:38 efficient minutes.
Detroit struggled shooting overall, as they have all season. They shot just 43 percent from the field and 19 percent from 3-point territory.
For the first time all season, the Celtics got to the free throw line with regularity. They were perfect in 19 free throw attempts and took more foul shots than their opponent for the first time in 2011-12.
Fourth quarter, 2:47, Celtics 96-78: The Celtics finally clear their bench, but not before O'Neal hits another jumper to give him 19 points.
Following O'Neal's fifth foul, which sends Monroe to the line, JaJuan Johnson, Avery Bradley and E'Twaun Moore check in to join Pavlovic and Stiemsma.
Fourth quarter, 6:24, Celtics 90-74: The first unit will get a little more seasoning in this one with the outcome more or less decided.
Allen and Garnett checked back in at the 7:48 mark, but Pierce, who played 22:49 in his first game back with a bruised right heel, stayed glued to the bench. No sense in risking anything when the Celtics lead by such a wide margin.
With seven minutes remaining, O'Neal also checked in. The Celtics might as well ride that wave as long as it lasts. Daniels and Dooling played an extended length of time with the three starters.
Fourth quarter, 8:53, Celtics 88-69: The 20-point lead is history. Now it's only 19 points.
A 3-pointer by Knight pulled the Pistons within 19 points, and after a pair of Dooling free throws, Jason Maxiell went hard to the hoop and finished with a dunk.
Rivers stayed with the reserve unit of Daniels, Stiemsma, Pavlovic, Bass and Dooling and didn't look ready to change anything soon.
End third quarter, Celtics 86-64: This is the sort of play Ainge envisioned when he constructed a roster that included O'Neal as the starting center.
O'Neal has been a dependable presence on offense, entering the fourth quarter with 17 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. His rebound and outlet to Marquis Daniels gave the C's a 19-point lead, and his and-one layup and free throw off a pick and roll with Allen stretched the Celtics' lead to 25 points at 84-59.
Possibly signaling that he believes he can chalk this up as a win, Rivers subbed out Allen and O'Neal for Stiemsma and Pavlovic. Bass made that look like a realistic prediction by drilling a straight-on 20-footer as the buzzer sounded on the third.
Third quarter, 4:21, Celtics 72-55: Believe it or not, it looks like the Celtics will not go 0-66 this season.
Pierce takes a screen from Bass and then slips the ball to Bass, who drops a baseline jumper for a 19-point Celtics advantage at 72-53. Monroe immediately responds with a basket (his 19th and 20th points of the game), but the damage is done.
There's a lot of basketball left, but unless Gordon suddenly gets in the zone, the Celtics appear to be in control.
Third quarter, 6:00, Celtics 67-51: At this rate the Pistons will exhaust all their timeouts by the end of the third quarter.
Frank took another timeout after a Pierce steal and outlet to Rondo gave the Celtics a 16-point lead, their largest of the game.
Third quarter, 7:42, Celtics 63-49: Pierce didn't spend his layoff due to the lockout and a foot injury sitting around, apparently.
Pierce drilled another corner 3, again on a pass out of the post by Garnett, for his second three-ball in three attempts. Rondo stroked another one from the foul line after airballing a previous 3-point attempt.
Third quarter, 11:14, Celtics 56-43: It didn't take Pistons coach Lawrence Frank long to see something he didn't like in the second half.
Forty-six seconds into the third quarter, Frank takes a timeout to huddle up. Allen opened the half with a 3 off a screen, then yanked away the ball from Monroe, leading to a corner 3 by Pierce after Garnett found him on a kick out from the post.
The Celtics open up their largest lead at 13 points and Pierce now has nine points. Allen leads the team with 12.
Halftime, Celtics 50-43: Allen and Ben Gordon had a bit of a battle of off-screen jumpers with Gordon going 2-for-2 and Allen hitting his attempt off a curl.
Allen had more trouble staying with Gordon than Gordon had staying with Allen, though, and despite being down the Pistons seem better able to get a good shot when they want it.
Now the good, the bad and the so-so.
The Good: The Celtics are 13-for-13 from the line, which is good for them in a couple of respects. For one thing, 100 percent from the foul line is always a good thing. It's also a good volume of attempts, though, as they have not gotten to the line effectively in any of their first three games. The Pistons have just five free throw attempts in this game. … Ray Allen hasn't slowed down offensively just because top scoring option Paul Pierce is back. Allen is 3-for-5 from the floor and 3-for-3 from the foul line for nine first-half points. … Sasha Pavlovic might have played the most solid all-around game of the first half. He made both shots he attempted for five points and was his man's hip pocket defensively.
The Bad: Rodney Stuckey has taken seven shots and has missed six of them. He has three points but has chipped in five assists.
The So-so: Jermaine O'Neal is showing what he can do when he stays out of foul trouble. He has 10 points and three rebounds in 14:37 with two fouls and is perfect in from the line. … Greg Monroe also posted a strong line, leading all scorers in the first half with 14 points. The Pistons center is 6-for-8 from the field and has four rebounds in 19:18. … So why are both these big men filed under "so-so"? Well, Monroe allowed O'Neal to score 10 points, and O'Neal allowed Monroe (who averages 8.0 points) to score 14 points. Defense is a part of the game, too.
Second quarter, 4:58, Celtics 40-30: The Celtics are trying very hard to get Pierce the ball in isolation. Rivers said prior to the game that Pierce's playing time would depend on the eye test, so the coach must see something he likes.
Pierce twice drove against Daye, drawing fouls both times, and hit a step-back jumper while being covered by Prince. Pierce's jumper gave the Celtics a 12-point lead that was swiftly pushed back to 10 by a putback by Monroe of his own miss.
Second quarter, 7:56, Celtics 34-26: No sooner did we start talking about Pavlovic's play than he makes another positive contribution by hitting a 3 after Dooling found him on a drive-and-kick.
Pavlovic's 3 briefly gave the Celtics' their largest lead of the night at 10 points, but Austin Daye quickly pulled the Pistons back within eight with a driving layup.
Second quarter, 9:21, Celtics 31-24: Somebody gave Pavlovic his feisty pills before the game.
The Montenegrin forward was a point of agita for Celtics fans in the first three games, but he was active off the bench agains the Pistons. He played good man-to-man defense after being subbed in for Pierce, then leaked out for a fast-break layup when Pierce found him with a three-quarters court pass ahead of Detroit's defense.
Pierce, in a possible sign of rustiness, got caught being somewhat indecisive off a screen and was called for traveling.
End first quarter, Celtics 24-22: Rondo tugs at his jersey, which is the universal symbol for asking for a sub. He appeared to land awkwardly. That's not good news for a team that needs all the scoring, balldhandling, defense and especially youth it can find.
Knight got on the board with a jump shot with 1:09 left in the quarter, but Brandon Bass' hot shooting was able to hold the Pistons off. Bass knocked down two foul line jumpers and was just short of a third attempt on a pick-and-roll with Rondo.
First quarter, 3:25, Celtics 20-15: It's a matchup of former Kentucky point guards after Knight checks in for Detroit. Knight may be one of the few point guards Rondo has faced who can match the C's point guard in quickness.
O'Neal continued to play aggressively against Monroe, going hard to the hoop and drawing a foul on Monroe. O'Neal's free throws tied the game at 15-15 and allowed Allen to give the Celtics the lead when he drilled an and-one jumper off a screen.
First quarter, 5:32, Pistons 15-13: The crowd gave Pierce a supportive roar when he was the final Celtic in the starting lineup introduced. He definitely looked a step slow in the early going, but he made up for that by knowing his positioning on defense, something Sasha Pavlovic struggled with in his three starts.
The Celtics captain went to the hoop on two of his first touches, and one of those — a driving layup 3:05 into the first quarter — gave Pierce his first points of the 2011-12 season.
Jermaine O'Neal is off to one of his better starts so far. His jump shot opened the scoring and he made an up-and-under move for another basket. Rondo continues his habit this season of looking for his own shot, attempting three field goals in the first seven minutes. He registered one make when he swished a straight-on 3-pointer, but Greg Monroe is doing a solid job of getting position and finishing down low. The Pistons big man out of Georgetown already has six points.
7:34 p.m.: This should be a game in which the Celtics clean the glass.
The Celtics outrebounded the Knicks 41-31 in the season opener, but were helpless on the glass in their last two games. The Heat and Hornets dominated the Celtics on the boards by a combined total of 86-65, with Rondo claiming the highest rebound total of any Celtic in that span. Rondo had eight rebounds in Tuesday's 115-107 loss to the Heat.
The Pistons have been absolutely taken to the cleaners in that department, getting outrebounded 93-66 in their two games.
7:24 p.m.: Rodney Stuckey, who signed a three-year contract extension during the offseason, is slated to start at point guard for the Pistons, but the fourth-year player out of Eastern Washington might now have someone pushing him for his minutes.
Rookie Brandon Knight, the eighth overall pick out of Kentucky, scored 23 points on Wednesday in his second NBA game. He did so while taking only 13 shots, making 10, and added six assists with just one turnover.
Stuckey, 25, led the Pistons in scoring and assists last season and has progressively improved in each of his three seasons. He inked a reported three-year, $25-million deal on Dec. 17.
7:03 p.m.: Paul Pierce is expected to play Friday against the Pistons, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers would not say what "percentage" of the minutes Pierce would play in his first game of the season.
Pierce, who did not play in any of the Celtics' two preseason or two regular-season games, is battling a bruised right heel. It is likely Pierce will start, although Sasha Pavlovic will get significant minutes after starting the previous three games this season.
Recent acquisition Mickael Pietrus will not be ready to go until sometime in January, according to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
Here are the probable starting lineups:
8 a.m.: After a tough three-game road trip to start the season, the Celtics hope for better luck in TD Garden when they play their home opener Friday against the Pistons.
Celtics captain Paul Pierce is tentatively expected to play after missing Boston's first three games — all losses — with a bone bruise in his right heel. This would be the first time all season, including the preseason, when the Celtics were more or less fully healthy (not counting Jeff Green's absence due to an aortic aneurysm).
This will be a quick home stand for the Celtics, who immediately hit the road to our nation's capital on Sunday before returning for five straight home games over the next two weeks. Join us for updates during the game, which is set to tip off at 7:30 p.m.