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BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett wasn't afraid to come out afterward and state exactly what this game was: a measuring stick. And one measure of how good the new and improved Boston Celtics are was gleaned by listening to Chauncey Billups afterward. "That is an elite team," Billups said. Elite, maybe, but not elite enough to measure up to the franchise that has been the class of the Eastern Conference for the better part of the decade. Elite, maybe, but not smart enough to avoid a boneheaded play at the end. Elite, maybe, but not wise enough to get the ball into the hands of Ray Allen or Garnett, the two guys who had been putting their heart and soul into every second of this playoff-like game, instead of giving it to Paul Pierce on their final possession, entrusting the biggest shot of the game to a player who had been looking tentative all night. There are at least a dozen different reasons why the Detroit Pistons were able to eke out an 87-85 victory over Boston on Wednesday night in what was easily one of the most competitive, riveting and intense games we've ever seen played in mid-December, but all those reasons begin to boil down to the same common denominators: experience, savvy and depth. When did the Pistons begin to seize control of the game? Not until the early part of the fourth quarter when Celtics coach Doc Rivers gave Rajon Rondo a rest and handed over the ballhandling chores to Eddie House, who could barely get the ball over the halfcourt line against the suffocating defense of Lindsey Hunter, still regarded as perhaps the top on-the-ball defender in the league. A 9-2 run put the Pistons ahead 70-67 before Rondo returned, and Detroit never trailed again. When did the Pistons deliver the knockout punch? Well, the play-by-play and the replays will tell you it came when Billups faked Tony Allen off his feet and drew a foul with 0.1 seconds left that sent him to the line for the tiebreaking and game-deciding free throws. But a big assist came moments earlier when the Pistons were exiting their timeout and Tayshaun Prince noticed that Tony Allen had checked back in as a defender.
|Chauncey Billups earns his trip to the winning free throws with a pump fake.|