Final: Celtics 86, Pistons 82. Good teams find a way, or so they say. The Celtics put forth a pretty pathetic effort against the Pistons at home, executing sluggishly and shooting just 44.7 percent, but they sneak out of the TD Garden with their fourth straight win.
Credit Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis with huge defensive rebounds down the stretch to ice the win, and Paul Pierce with 22 points, five rebounds and three assists to lead the way statistically.
Five Pistons finish in double figures, led by Rodney Stuckey with 15, but Detroit comes up short in the final minutes.
The Celtics have Thursday off before returning Friday night to the TD Garden, where they'll take on the Utah Jazz.
Fourth quarter, 16.6 seconds, Celtics 85-82: Kevin Garnett comes up with a big rebound off of a Rodney Stuckey miss, but he's only able to hit one of two free throws. The Pistons are still alive.
Who gets the ball for the big 3 with the game on the line? Do the Pistons send Ben Gordon in there, or do they trust Rodney Stuckey or an ice-cold T-Mac to get the job done?
Fourth quarter, 24.5 seconds, Celtics 84-82: Ray Allen steps up and hits the big shot, a long two from the wing to put the Celtics in front.
This is insane. The C's are one stop away from an improbable comeback victory.
Fourth quarter, 31.8 seconds, 82-82: Kevin Garnett had an open jumper from the top of the key to put the Celtics in top. Couldn't hit it, but Rajon Rondo comes out of nowhere to get a huge offensive rebound.
The Celtics have another shot. 31.8 seconds on the game clock, 19 to shoot. If they can get a bucket here, the Pistons will have their backs to the wall for one final possession.
Fourth quarter, 1:28, Pistons 82-80: Tracy McGrady just tried to drive the dagger through the Celtics' hearts with a wing 3, but no dice. The shot rims out, and Ray Allen comes up with a huge defensive rebound.
The C's now have a 43-32 advantage on the glass. That's huge.
Doc Rivers has called a timeout. His Celtics are still very much alive.
Fourth quarter, 3:24, 78-78: The Celtics have always been all about making the extra pass. But I think they just made about five of them.
Paul Pierce passes up a wide-open 3, he cuts in, and a nice Pierce-to-Allen-to-Garnett swing results in an open corner jumper for KG.
Fourth quarter, 5:08, 76-76: And we're tied. Just like that.
Shaquille O'Neal makes the hustle play for the offensive rebound, makes the putback, and gets the and-one. The C's tie the ballgame on Shaq's three-point play.
Shaq has equaled his season high with 11 rebounds in this game. Pretty impressive.
Fourth quarter, 5:23, Pistons 75-73: The Celtics are suddenly showing energy on both ends. Took them long enough.
Capping off the 6-0 Boston run is a fast break launched by a Shaquille O'Neal steal, ending in a layup by Paul Pierce. Those are the last two guys you expect to see running the break, but hey. When the Celtics get desperate, everyone cranks it up a notch.
Fourth quarter, 7:50, Pistons 75-67: One UConn alum is missing free throws. The other is draining 3s in crunch time. You'll never guess which is which.
Ray Allen bricks a pair of freebies; Ben Gordon knocks down the trifecta. The Pistons' lead was one point a second ago; it's now eight.
The C's are in real trouble.
Fourth quarter, 8:48, Pistons 70-67: How many times have we seen Glen Davis open the fourth quarter with energetic plays to generate points in the paint?
He's doing it again, and he's keeping the C's competitive.
Fourth quarter, 10:59, Pistons 63-62: It's time to introduce Semih "Instant Offense" Erden. The big Turkish rookie just poured in four points, and the Celtics are alive once again.
Can they keep getting buckets inside? Settling for jumpers all night might not be enough to get the job done.
End of third quarter, Pistons 60-55: Paul Pierce has 18 points. He's the only Celtic in double figures.
Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo have all been anemic offensively.
As a team, the C's are shooting 39.3 percent.
What in the world is going on?
The C's have 12 minutes to snap out of this.
Third quarter, 2:29, Pistons 58-55: After an ugly possession on both ends — turnovers, bad shots, and on and on and on — Paul Pierce finally breaks through with a wing 3. He's now got a game-high 18 points, and the C's are within three.
The C's have had an ugly night from wire to wire. If they could snap out of it and play 15 solid minutes from here on out, they could survive.
Third quarter, 5:15, Pistons 56-50: Glen Davis just drew a nice charge from Rodney Stuckey, firing up a TD Garden crowd that had been virtually dead since halftime.
Maybe Big Baby's toughness is exactly what the Celtics need to give them a jolt. They're playing really uninspired basketball at the moment, and they need something to snap them out of it.
Third quarter, 7:25, Pistons 53-48: Shaquille O'Neal now has nine rebounds and two blocks. He's not doing much offensively, but his presence on the block has been a huge factor for the Celtics in this game.
Now, if only the C's could take those stops and turn them into transition points tonight. That effort will have to start with Rajon Rondo.
Rondo doesn't look like himself. He's only got four points and three assists. Count 'em — three.
Third quarter, 9:19, Pistons 49-44: Shaquille O'Neal just slammed a Rodney Stuckey layup out of bounds with authority — before tumbling to the ground and throwing 340 pounds of weight into a cameraman in the front row.
Shaq takes a while to get up, but it looks like he's OK.
I don't envy Kevin Garnett, having to help the big fella up after that fall.
Third quarter, 10:59, Pistons 46-43: Paul Pierce finds out the refs are going to call it tight in the second half, and that goes both ways. First the captain picks up two quick fouls in the opening minute; then on the other end, he throws his body into Tracy McGrady and draws a foul of his own.
Pierce hits one of two free throws. He's now got 13 of the Celtics' 43 points.
The rest of the C's need to wake up.
Halftime, Pistons 45-42: Paul Pierce has 12 points at the break to lead the Celtics. Everyone else looks dead out there.
Rajon Rondo has done nothing to quarterback this offense, with only two assists. Neither Kevin Garnett nor Shaquille O'Neal has been particularly effective as a bench scorer. The bench has done nothing.
Shooting 43.6 percent and scoring 42 in a half isn't very good for this C's team. But against the Pistons, a squad they should beat handily, it's really terrible.
Second quarter, 2:26, Pistons 43-40: One former UConn Husky is benched for the Pistons, but another is having a stellar game. Charlie Villanueva has seven points off the bench in 13 minutes, shooting 3-of-6.
Meanwhile, not a peep out of Richard Hamilton, who is watching this one from the bench as usual.
Second quarter, 3:52, Celtics 38-37: The Celtics finally get their first bucket from Shaqulle O'Neal. Took them long enough.
Shaq has looked a little bit rattled all night, turning the ball over and missing layups. Maybe a nice backboard-shaking dunk is exactly what he needed to get settled.
Second quarter, 6:03, Celtics 33-31: The Celtics' second unit does the trick, holding down the fort until the starters return.
Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are stripping off the warmups and heading back in. The C's will look to pad their lead with their leading five on the floor.
Second quarter, 8:37, Celtics 29-26: The Celtics go on a 5-2 run thanks to a little offense from Glen Davis and Von Wafer. They're back in front for the time being.
Meanwhile, Marquis Daniels is back in the locker room, along with team physician Brian McKeon. He wasn't walking easily — it might be an ankle injury. Definitely something to keep an eye on.
Second quarter, 10:00, 24-24: Doc Rivers calls an early timeout in the second quarter. He's not getting any ball movement out of his second unit, and it's no doubt worrisome for him.
Ray Allen is headed back into the game. Doc has been unable to trust his complete second unit for prolonged stretches this season — he needs the veteran presence of either Ray or Paul Pierce to make things click.
End of first quarter, 22-22: So far, we're seeing a Celtics-Pistons matchup from the good old days of 2008 — strong defense on both sides, nothing coming easy for anyone, and a close game.
The Celtics get nine points from Paul Pierce and the Pistons get nine from Greg Monroe, but the supporting casts have each been underwhelming, and we're looking at a defensive struggle so far, for the most part.
The Pistons are shooting 43.8 percent; the Celtics are a cut above at 45. Both teams could do a little better.
First quarter, 2:25, Pistons 20-19: The Pistons have rode the strong, physical play of rookie Greg Monroe to a 10-4 run and a lead in this ballgame.
The former Georgetown Hoya has four points and nine rebounds already. He's athletic, he's long, and he's not afraid to get down and muscle up against opposing bigs. He even stood up to Kevin Garnett earlier in this first quarter, putting a body on him and refusing to back down.
The C's have had a front line of Semih Erden and Glen Davis going up against the undersized combo of Monroe and Charlie Villanueva. Right now, the Pistons' "bigs" are holding their own.
First quarter, 5:30, Celtics 15-10: The Celtics have made six of their first 11 shots, three of them assisted, none of the assists from Rondo.
Pierce has a game-high seven points on 3-of-4 shooting, including a wide-open 3. He'll take that shot every time.
We've yet to see any real aggression from the Pistons' two veteran scorers, Tracy McGrady and Ben Gordon.
First quarter, 7:10, Celtics 12-10: Rajon Rondo just did his best Nate Robinson impression, pulling up for a jumper in transition rather than driving or looking for an assist.
Rondo is 2-for-3 from the field already, an unusually aggressive start for him.
First quarter, 9:22, 6-6: Two encouraging signs early — one, the Celtics' ball movement is looking really solid, and two, Rajon Rondo isn't afraid to take the mid-range jumper tonight.
Rondo knocks one down to tie the ballgame, 6-6. He's yet to record an assist, but KG and Paul Pierce each have one.
First quarter, 11:44, Celtics 2-0: We're underway, and Kevin Garnett has landed the first punch with a short jumper over the rookie Greg Monroe. It's 2-0 Boston.
If KG can be a reliable scorer inside from the very beginning, that's a nice indicator that he's totally over the injury. So far, so, good.
5:50 p.m.: Welcome to the TD Garden, where the Celtics are set to take on a Detroit Pistons team that's riddled with uncertainty about its future.
The big news of the day has come from Mikhail Prokhorov in New Jersey, who says the Nets' bid to land the Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony is now over.
Is Prokhorov for real? Or is it a bluff?
And what does this all mean for the Pistons, who were supposed to be the third team in this mess?
The Pistons have to play through all the distractions. They tip off against the Celtics at 7:30.
8 a.m.: As much as Celtics fans dread seeing Kevin Garnett injured, the experience is undoubtedly far, far worse for KG himself.
But Garnett was able to return on Monday night after a three-week absence, proving once and for all that he's over his lower leg injury and ready to help the Celtics again. He credited his teammates for helping him through the process.
"Being hurt is not a thing that I like," Garnett said Monday after helping the Celtics beat the Magic in his first game back. "I hate it, to be totally honest. I don't deal with it well. But as I get older, along with these knuckleheads here keeping it real light for me, keeping my spirits up, I can work through it. Tonight I felt strong, and I'm going to continue to build on this."
Garnett is back, he's healthy, and he's ready to keep getting better. He started strong against the Magic, pulling down six rebounds in the first quarter and finishing with 19 points, eight boards, two assists and two steals. One of the steals was a game-winner on Orlando's final possession.
The ultimate goal, though, remains finding a steady rhythm by playoff time. Last season, Garnett suffered a hyperextended right knee in late December and similarly missed 11 games around the turn of the new year. He then returned in late January, gradually returned to 100 percent and was rock-solid in time to lead the Celtics to the NBA Finals in the spring of 2010.
The C's can only hope KG is ready to do it again.
Monday night was the first baby step, and Wednesday will be a second. Garnett and the Celtics take on the Detroit Pistons at 7:30 p.m.