BOSTON -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers knew it couldn't just vanish. He had seen glimpses of Boston's signature defense this season -- even if just in practices or exhibition games -- and he was certain it would come back. And like a missing dog turning up at the doorstep, Rivers lit up when he talked about the defensive effort in Friday's 96-85 triumph over the Detroit Pistons.
"I thought it was terrific," Rivers said after his team limited the Pistons to 43 percent shooting (34 of 79 overall). "I thought that was the difference. In the third quarter -- we all get mesmerized by offense -- but in the third quarter, it was the defense. We got multiple stops. It was the defense that we’re used to. We’re comfortable with it. We hadn’t seen it yet this year, so it was nice to see it."
The Celtics carried a seven-point lead out of the intermission, but that's as close as things would get the rest of the way. Ray Allen canned a 3-pointer, then picked up the ball when Greg Monroe fumbled it away at the other end, leading to a Paul Pierce 3-pointer and a 13-point cushion.
The Celtics would miss their next three shots, but instead of allowing Detroit to chip away at their lead, the team simply maintained it as Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal took turns swatting shots at the other end of the floor. The Wizards gave the ball away five times in the frame and, even though they made 9 of 19 shots (47.4 percent), Boston made 15 of 21 (71.4 percent) and really cranked up the ball movement (12 assists).
It all spawned from some gritty defense.
“In the third quarter, I thought we did a better job of just turning up the energy and taking away easy passes and then taking a turnover and turning it into some offense," said Garnett.
So where had that defense been?
"I don’t know," shrugged Rivers. "I swear I don’t. I wish I did. I thought in camp, I really thought we had terrific defensive practices. You look at the two exhibition games, our defense was phenomenal against Toronto, who can put points on the board. Our offense was horrendous. Then we played the Knicks and Miami, and we score 104 [points versus New York], then [107 against Miami] and we shoot 53 percent. But we can’t get any stops. That’s what makes this job crazy."
And it's efforts like Friday's third quarter that make it so satisfying. But there were still reasons for concern, the Pistons' 38 points in the paint chief among them. Players stressed the defense is still a work in progress.
"The first three games, I thought we were very porous," said Allen. "So, I think tonight was a step forward. We have more steps to take, and I think the new guys are starting to understand that the communication is there, where we want it to be. You figure, [Mickael] Pietrus, we're seeing him the first time today, so getting all of those pieces together and organizing, that's important. Because everybody is going to be integral to our success, and it's going to take everybody to help us win games throughout the season."