The Celtics committed an absurd 24 turnovers and gave up an unheard of 46 free throws in a loss that was not as close as the final score indicated.
The only Boston player who deserved any positive words was Jermaine O'Neal, who hauled in 11 rebounds and and blocked five shots. He was visibly spent after playing 26 minutes against Pistons center Greg Monroe, no easy matchup for a man 12 years his senior.
Fourth quarter, 2:56, Pistons 90-75: What was once a 20-point lead was whittled down to 15, but the body language of the Celtics does not say "comeback." It says, "We have a game Monday night against the defending champs."
Avery Bradley, Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic, E'Twaun Moore and Stiemsma get the garbage minutes. In a sign of how much his stock has risen in the last couple of weeks — and of how decimated the Celtics are in the frontcourt — rookie Johnson is not in for useless minutes. He's too important a member of the rotation now.
Fourth quarter, 8:48, Pistons 77-66: Keyon Dooling apparently will assume the point guard duties in Rondo's absence. As long as he doesn't commit six turnovers or drill any referees with basketballs, it might be a step up.
End of third quarter, Pistons 75-61: A Celtics comeback in the fourth quarter would be done without Rondo, who picked up a double technical with three minutes left in the third.
The point guard, apparently feeling he had been fouled on a drive to the hoop earlier in the quarter, had some words for the official. To the official's credit, he ignored Rondo until he got a basketball in the chest, tossed by Rondo.
The immature antic got Rondo tossed.
The free throw dispartiy of 40 attempts for Detroit and 14 attempts for Boston might look on its surface like one-sided officiating, but it's not. The young, rebuilding team has played like a discipline unit, while the veteran squad with three future Hall of Famers looks like an AAU unit.
Third quarter, 3:00, Pistons 67-54: Rondo caught an airball by Pietrus as the shot clock expired, drawing a 24-second violation. Rondo tossed the ball in the ref's direction, and picked up a double-technical.
He's gone with Boston's fourth technical of the game.
O'Neal looks like he's about to collapse.
Third quarter, 5:19, Pistons 61-54: Allen, who was held scoreless in the first half, reeled off eight points in the first five minutes of the third quarter as the Celtics mounted their usual second-half comeback.
Allen's short jumper pulled Boston within 59-54, and O'Neal had a chance to close the gap more but missed both free throws.
The big men O'Neal and Wilcox grew visibly fatigued after playing big minutes due to frontcourt injuries to Garnett and Brandon Bass.
Third quarter, 9:40, Pistons 57-47: Pistons head coach and former Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank was willing to take no chances after a steal and layup by Pierce and a transition 3 by Allen narrowed the lead to 10 points.
Frank asked for a quick timeout as the Celtics came out of halftime with a bit more bounce in their step.
Halftime, Pistons 55-42: The Celtics will be in rough shape in the second half if their bigs don't stop fouling everything in sight. Wilcox picked up his fourth personal foul, then picked up a technical. JaJuan Johnson already had three fouls and O'Neal two.
The Celtics shot 50 percent from the field, assisted on 14 of their 16 field goals and held their own in the overall rebounding battle 23-19.
Why are they so far behind? Detroit's 17-for-29 mark from the free throw line, compared to Boston's 8-for-10 mark, is only part of it. The larger reasons are the Celtics' 13 turnovers (while forcing only five by the Pistons) and the Pistons' 11 rebounds.
The Good: Rodney Stuckey was simply too big and too strong for the Celtics guards in the first half. Listed a 205 pounds but probably a good 10 pounds of muscle heavier, Stuckey bruised his way to the hoop at will for 13 points. Most of those came at the line, where he was 9-for-11. … People who continue to criticize Jermaine O'Neal for his foul trouble simply do not get it. The veteran big man was one of the few Celtics working consistently in the first half, scoring eight points on 4-for-5 shooting and pulling down a game-high six rebounds. If he seems like he's always out of position, it's because he's the only player other than Kevin Garnett who always comes over to help on defense after Rajon Rondo or Ray Allen get toasted by the opposing guard. Keep it up, JO.
The Bad: Where to start with the Celtics? Rondo had eight assists, but he was 1-for-4 from the field and turne the ball over five times. Johnson needed all of five minutes to pick up three fouls. Ray Allen totaled as many fouls as points: Two.
The So-so: Mickael Pietrus has been in a shooting slump, but the swingman has shown his character through the struggles. He made a tough block on Jason Maxiell. That doesn't completely clear him of the two ugly misses he put up, but it showed was at least trying.
Second quarter, 3:26, Pistons 47-36: The Celtics practiced hard on Saturday, and while it may have shored up a few of their problem areas in execution, the exertion may have contributed to why they looked so flat in the second quarter.
Or it could be as simple as them just not getting back on defense or boxing out. The Pistons nabbed 10 offensive rebounds, three by Monroe alone, to post their largest lead of the game at 47-34. Three of the baskets during Detroit's 12-7 run came of putbacks.
Second quarter, 6:49, Pistons 38-29: Damien Wilkins peeled off a screen to drill a 3-pointer to give Detroit its largest lead, but that wasn't what had Celtics coach Doc Rivers hopping mad — enough to draw a technical foul.
Rivers felt Ben Wallace's screen to clear Wilkins was illegal, and it certainly appeared on first glance that Wallace was moving a lot.
The Celtics scored one field goal in the first 5:11, so at least one member of the Celtics has some fire.
Second quarter, 8:39, Pistons 33-27: The Pistons were only able to keep pace with the Celtics in the first quarter by going 8-for-13 from the foul line, while the Celtics shot a blistering 65 percent from the field.
In the early part of the second quarter, Detroit continued to get to the line, but the Celtics' shooting cooled off considerably. As a result, the Pistons started to build on a lead despite missing four of their eight foul shots in the second quarter.
Jonas Jerebko finished a layup on a break, giving the first field goal for either team in the quarter.
End of first quarter, game tied 26-26: The book on Greg Stiemsma has pretty much been written. Nice wingspan. Good energy. Bouncy shotblocker. Unable to defend the pick-and-roll or away from the ball, at least based on what he's shown.
One aspect that might not be high up on the scouting report is his good hands. Stiemsma caught a hot pass by Keyon Dooling off a screen and roll, turning a potential turnover into a dunk that tied the game heading into the second frame.
First quarter, 2:31, Pistons 23-22: After taking their largest lead at 20-14, the Celtics went into a funk on offense while the Pistons began to impose their will physically.
Between Stuckey and Ben Gordon, the Pistons may have two of the strongest guards in the game. That seems to be making a difference as we enter the third month of the season, and it made a difference over the last few minutes.
The Pistons made a 9-2 run with two close baskets by Monroe and five points by Stuckey. Stuckey's three-point play was pure strength to be able to finish after drawing contact from O'Neal.
First quarter, 5:49, Celtics 18-14: The first portion of the first quarter couldn't have gone more smoothly. The teams went more than half the quarter without a stoppage or a substitution, and the Celtics operated their offense perfectly.
The Celtics hit eight of their first nine field goals, with strong starts by Wilcox and Jermaine O'Neal, to build a four-point lead out of what had been a 10-6 deficit early.
O'Neal was the early Boston scoring leader with six points. Rajon Rondo picked apart Detroit's defense with three assists on the Celtics' eight field goals.
6:05 p.m.: Where will Garnett be missed most against the Pistons? Most definitely on defense. Garnett is that perfect defensive talker your high school coach always urged all the post players to be. He's constantly talking, calling out the screens for his teammates and letting them all know where each other is — and should be — at all times.
Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey and Brandon Knight's jobs got easier as soon as it was announce Garnett was out.
It is also reportedly unlikely Garnett will play Monday in Dallas, either.
5:37 p.m.: The Pistons keep on dodging Kevin Garnett. For the second time in as many meetings, Garnett is out against the Pistons. This time, it's for a personal matter, although the Big Ticket has been hampered by a sore left hip.
Garnett has missed zero games against the rest of the Celtics' opponents this season.
Chris Wilcox, who seems always to bring something helpful off pure energy but isn't the vocal leader (especially defensively) that Garnett is, is expected to get the start.
The projected starting lineups are below.
4:15 p.m.: The lockout ended in December, but the Pistons played for two months like they were still on vacation.
Detroit posted a 4-19 record in December and January, and there were calls for president of basketball operations Joe Dumars to lose his job. That was quite the negative turnaround considering Dumars was a Pistons legend as a player and was responsible for building the rosters that six straight appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals, winning an NBA championship in 2004.
With love in the air, February has been a much more comfortable place for the Pistons. The Pistons are 6-3 in the month, and Dumars is being credited with rebuilding the team just one year after a 10-win season that featured an embarrassing fallout between centerpiece guard Rip Hamilton and coach John Kuester.
A large amount of credit for the newfound success is second-year center Greg Monroe. One of the few Pistons players who has been steady since the first jump ball, Monroe has upped his production to 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in February. He's having the best season of his career, and he'll be a handful for the Celtics on Sunday.
8 a.m. ET: The five-day break the NBA All-Star weekend provides can't come soon enough for the Celtics, who are weary from the condensed schedule and battling injuries that range from severe to merely nagging.
One of the injured, Kevin Garnett, is expected to play his second straight game with a sore left hip as the Celtics (15-14) travel to Detroit on Sunday, trying to keep their record above .500. The Pistons (10-22) have won six of eight.
One of the first orders of duty is to cut down on opponent's offensive rebounds. The Celtics have given up 42 offensive rebounds in the last three games, and their 11.4 offensive rebounds per game allowed is the 10th-highest total in the NBA. Detroit, surprisingly, is one of the top 11 teams in the league in getting their own offensive rebounds, which is a credit to second-year center Greg Monroe and an aggressive group of wings that crash the boards.
Get updates and analysis during the game, which is set to tip off at 6 p.m.