A mid-December NBA game does not usually remind a viewer of a playoff atmosphere but that was not the case tonight in Boston as the new-look Celtics put their best-ever(*) 20-2 start on the line against the Detroit Pistons. After an exciting, back-and-forth fourth quarter, the Celtics dug back from a 6-point deficit with 1:19 left (and with Pistons having the ball), only to lose with poor clock management in the last 30 seconds.
A few things we learned:
* Ray Allen still has plenty in the tank, especially after having a couple of games off to rest his legs. His turn-the-corner-and-dunk-in-traffic off a timeout with 6 minutes left turned the game around when the Cs were in danger of losing touch (down 7). And his pair of three-pointers (one from the corner off the dribble, the other from the top of the key with 18 seconds left, led the comeback.
Update: Here's the video, now up on YouTube:
* The Cs have no defensive answer for Chauncy Billups (28 pts, 8 assists in 37 minutes), especially in the fourth quarter, when he took Rajon Rondo down to the proverbial "Men's Room" on the low block. Doc Rivers tried Eddie House and Tony Allen in crunch time, but neither proved to be enough. Allen ended up effectively ending the game when he left his feet on a Billups shot-fake on the last possession, sending Billups to the line with 0.1 seconds left.
* The Pistons were able to dictate game tempo, especially in second half. The Celtics have been able to separate themselves from (mostly inferior) opponents over the first quarter of the season with a transition game based on good defense. The defense was there against the Pistons -- Detroit shot just 40.3% -- but the C's were unable to turn missed shots into easy baskets.
* Don't book the Cs for the NBA Finals quite yet. The Cs have fattened up on an easy schedule: most of their games have been against the weak East, and have only played a few games against weak West teams (Sac, Den, LAL). Boston is now 1-3 against elite East teams (0-1 against Orlando and Detroit; 1-1 against Cleveland), and has yet to travel west of Chicago. The next stretch of the season,, with a trip to the Pacific upcoming next week -- and the Celtics trip to the "Texas triangle" in March -- should be very interesting.
* All that being said, the Cs are clearly a challenge for the Pistons, and Boston fans are ready for this rejuvinated franchise. The road to the East will probably go through Detroit, and a Pistons/Celtics series could be very interesting.
(*) - Actually, equalling the best-ever start of 20-2 in 1963-4. Both teams lost their 23rd game, to go 20-3.