By Matt Langone and Bill Burt
BOSTON — It appears rust played a larger role than pain in Chauncey Billups' mediocre performance in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Last night, the Detroit Pistons All-Star point guard looked like a completely different player.
Unlike Tuesday night, when the 6-foot-3 veteran looked timid due to his injured hamstring, Billups came out aggressive from the opening tip in last night's Game 2. His improved play across the stat sheet helped the visitors to a huge 103-97 victory as the best-of-seven series now shifts to Detroit for Game 3 tomorrow night (8:30 p.m.), knotted at 1-1.
It was the first time this postseason that the Celtics had lost at home. They are now 9-1 at the friendly confines of the Garden.
Before the game, Detroit head coach Flip Saunders said he expected Billups to find his groove, and the former Celtic responded to the tune of 19 points and 7 assists. He shot 5 for 10 from the floor and drained both of his 3-point attempts. A much better showing than the 9-point, two-assist performance from Billups in Game 1.
"(I wasn't going to watch Chauncey closely) because of how he was in the fourth quarter of Game 1," said Saunders. "I think he was a little bit more explosive."
Billups also demonstrated why he has been referred to as "Mr. Big Shot," with a tough reverse lay-up late in the contest off a Detroit inbounds pass with three seconds left on the shot clock. That bucket gave Detroit a 100-94 advantage with 18.7 seconds left.
Billups had a short answer on his health after the game.
"I'm good," he said.
Stuckey was the difference
With the starting lineups of both teams playing well, the game was begging for a difference-maker off the bench.
That role was filled by Detroit rookie guard Rodney Stuckey. The 6-foot-5 Eastern Washington University product did his best Vinnie Johnson impersonation as he went off for 13 points in 17 minutes. The points came efficiently for Detroit's new "Microwave," as he shot 5 for 8 from the floor and 3 for 3 from the line.
"I'm never scared," said Stuckey. "I'm not nervous. I got Rip (Hamilton), Chauncey, Sheed (Wallace), Tay (Prince) and all these guys behind me. And Lindsey Hunter and they keep me poised and confident every day."
According to Hunter, confidence is never a problem for Stuckey, who only played two years of college ball.
"I remember a long time ago I asked him about some kids that were drafted ahead of (him)," said Hunter, who had four points in 10 minutes. "He just looked at me and gave me a smile and a stare. That's all I needed to know."
The Pistons' bench outscored Boston's 17-8.
Time for Sam?
After seeing his bench struggle all game, including an 0 for 3 showing from guard Eddie House, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was asked if Sam Cassell would soon see his first action of the series.
"You know how you guys are," Rivers said to the media. "If Sam is not playing well, play Eddie. If Eddie is not playing well, play Sam. Either way you're a dunce. I think on the road Sam's experience will help. We'll see."
McDyess the quiet assassin
Through the first two games of this series, forward Antonio McDyess has quietly been the Pistons' most consistent player.
He had 14 points and 11 rebounds in Game 1, and added 15 points and eight rebounds last night. He is 12 for 22 shooting from the floor in the series.
Did you know ...
That Detroit's power forward Rasheed Wallace was taken with the fourth pick overall by the then-Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) and Celtics power forward Kevin Garnett was taken with the next pick, at No. 5, by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Wallace came out of the University of North Carolina while Garnett was out of high school in Chicago (Farragut Academy).
In that same draft, Detroit's Antonio McDyess was taken second overall by the Los Angeles Clippers (then immediately traded to Denver). A bad knee injury prevented him from being a perennial All-Star.
Younger Ainge takes in game
Danny Ainge's eldest son Austin, flew in for last night's game. The former Brigham Young starter is currently an assistant coach with the University of Southern Utah.
When told he would not be allowed to return if the Celtics lost last night, he shot back, "No, I was here for Game 5 of the Cleveland series."
Ainge did two years of mission work in the Dominican Republic while at BYU.
Allen's slump ends
Ray Allen's long-range shooting slump covered four full games before he hit a pair of fourth quarter 3-pointers last night.
Allen's first 3-pointer came with 5:08 remaining in the game, narrowing the Pistons lead to 88-86. He also had a long bomb high over Rasheed Wallace's outstretched hand with 10.7 seconds remaining to close the gap to 100-97, giving the Celtics one more chance.
Before last night, Allen had not hit a 3-point shot since the first half of the Celtics' May 14 game against Cleveland.
Brady and Gisele in the house
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was with his girlfriend, super model Gisele Bundchen. Brady must have a deal with the Celtics cameramen because she was not shown on the Jumbotron with Brady during a fourth-quarter timeout.
Patriots owner Bob Kraft was also in attendance with his wife Myra.
Wallace's three-game ritual
Before every game, Pistons power forward Rasheed Wallace ends his workout by taking 3-point shots from halfcourt. And these are not heaves, but legitimate jump shots. He starts from the 3-point line and moves back, taking about 20. The last one he took before heading into the locker room was a swish.
Speaking of 3's, Wallace, who had been in a miserable slump from deep, hit two of them, including a big one to end the third quarter to make the score 78-69 in favor of the Pistons.
In the two games thus far, just before the opening tap Wallace has walked up to Doc Rivers before the game to shake his hand. Wallace also gives 3-second bear hug to his Celtics counterpart, Kevin Garnett, before the tap, too.
"I'm always ready. ... That's why I'm here," said little used Celtics backup Sam Cassell before the game.
"Their poise? We're never going to beat that. That's who they are. We have to beat them," said Doc Rivers.
"The game is made of runs. We knew the Celtics are going to make their run, but we just had to fight back," said Pistons rookie Rodney Stuckey.
"I'm looking at Chauncey shot 12 free throws. Nobody on our team had double-digit free throws. Little small things like that add up in a game like this," said Celtic Kevin Garnett.