PISTONS PROVE GOOD PLAY MOWS A GARDEN

BOSTON – It might not be the old Garden, with the rats and the bad air and the leprechauns, but this new Garden has been magical to the Boston Celtics. Now that magic is gone. Whatever role the parquet floor played in the 2008 playoffs – allowing the Celtics to go a perfect 9-0 – was smashed Thursday night by the only team these days that seems unaffected by geography, or anything else for that matter.

Beat the House. The Pistons had to do it at some point if they wanted to win these Eastern Conference finals, and they did it in Game 2 the old-fashioned way: They tried harder.

Gone were the late-arriving feet of Game 1, and the wide-open shots surrendered, and the lack of help. Back came the smothering dance that Detroit likes to call “defense.” Intense, hand-in-the-face, chest-to-chest defense. The Celtics coughed up the ball 10 times in the first half, one shy of their total in Game 1.

“All they did is up the intensity guys!” Doc Rivers implored his team during a time-out – captured by TV cameras. “That’s all they did.”

Isn’t that all they had to do?

Beat the House. This was a game that required full batteries, a volume knob turned way up, and a total ability to forget anything negative. The Celtics can revive themselves quickly with blocks and long jumpers and their crowd gets right into it – so you are never safely ahead. Boston erased a seven-point halftime deficit to go up by four. The Pistons fought back. Boston trimmed an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter to two – thanks to a reawakened Ray Allen.

The Pistons fought back.

And, finally, when Rip Hamilton came racing down the lane, past Kevin Garnett, past all of them, rising up, the shot clock about to expire, and he pushed a shot one-handed that somehow rolled into the net – they had knocked back the darling team of the NBA. And its four walls.

“We live for this, you know,” Hamilton said.

We know. Beat the House.

Who was that unmasked man?

They won, 103-97, with a moving offense, with 21 assists, with good three-point shooting. They won as a team, and as young and old. Old? How about Antonio McDyess? After the first five minutes – in which the Pistons looked pretty bad – he ripped that plastic mask off, and it was as if he removed leg shackles, gravity and the aging process as well. McDyess, 33, was moving like mad, defending Garnett with arms, thighs, torso and quick footwork. McDyess was downright spritely on offense, hitting the Pistons’ first jumper, rolling off the defense for a lay-up, taking a give-and-go for a three-point play. He hit a huge shot and grabbed three rebounds down the stretch, standing tall against Boston’s crashing waves.

“We did our job,” said McDyess, who finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and three steals. “We came out and got it tonight.”

Sometimes people forget that McDyess has all the motivation of the Celtics combined. He is the lone Pistons starter without a ring. He comes to work every day wondering why he couldn’t have joined this team one year earlier, when it took the crown. Garnett and Paul Pierce may never have seen the NBA Finals, but McDyess has seen them, seen the end of the rainbow, and watched another team slide down it.

Which is worse?

Hawks and Cavs couldn’t do it

And then, the kid. Rodney Stuckey is only 22, and he’s getting better game by game. He had some nerveless moments in Game 1. And he grew up more in Game 2. He made passes. Smart assists. He hit pull-up jumpers. And he did what every Detroit fan has been screaming about for days – he drove the hoop. He finished with 13 points in 17 minutes, including six in the fourth quarter. He is promise being realized.

And so are the Pistons. This was a very tough game to win, folks. In Boston, you feel like you’re playing team, legend, fans and karma. But the Pistons had a few things going Thursday. They hadn’t lost two in a row this postseason.

And they are not afraid of the road.

So they did what Atlanta and Cleveland could not do. And now Boston must win a road game, something it hasn’t done yet. And here, if the Pistons ultimately win the title, will be the reason why: They don’t rattle – at least not for long. On Thursday, McDyess forgot that he was old, Stuckey forgot that he was young, and Detroit forgot that playoff teams don’t win in Boston.

Beat the House. Now all that remains is who gets to four wins first. That is what should determine a title. Not a building.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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