Monday, March 15, 2010 Updated: March 16, 9:59 AM ET
Pierce, Celtics come together
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- Following Sunday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics center Kendrick Perkins didn't exactly call out the leaders on his team, but he went out of his way to heap praise on Cleveland's LeBron James.
Perkins called James a "great leader" and noted how teammates seemed to feed off James' energy. If it was intended as a shot across the bow of captain Paul Pierce -- or any of the Big Three -- it wasn't overtly obvious, but the message might have been received anyway.
Pierce scored 12 of Boston's first 16 points Monday night against the Detroit Pistons, lighting a fuse for some offensive fireworks as Boston built a 29-point halftime lead and coasted to a 119-93 triumph at TD Garden.
Paul Pierce got the Celtics off to a good start Monday, scoring 12 of Boston's first 16 points.
Pierce, limited by foul trouble and some back stiffness that sent him to the locker room before intermission, finished with 15 points in less than 17 minutes of play, leading seven Celtics in double figures.
"When Paul is aggressive like he is, there isn't a forward in the world that can guard him," Kevin Garnett said. "He sets the tone, not just for the offense, but for the defense as well."
Pierce scored eight straight points early in the game to erase the only deficit Boston saw, and then his only 3-pointer of the night helped the Celtics open a double-digit advantage a little more than seven minutes in.
Pierce didn't address the media after the game, but Celtics coach Doc Rivers suggested he was fine physically (although, given Boston's injury history this season, one can't be sure).
"We're obviously really working to try to re-establish [Pierce]," Rivers said. "And, like I said before the game, it's coming around. It's still not there, but that was great to see. He looked explosive. So those are the signs I keep seeing that I think he's getting closer and our team's getting closer."
Before the game, Rivers reaffirmed his feeling that the Celtics are moving in the right direction and that he still views his team as championship material.
Pierce's performance wasn't the only thing Rivers saw Monday that pleased him. Boston committed just one first-half turnover and matched a season high with 34 assists, 19 coming on 23 second-half field goals.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Celtics connected on 34 of 50 attempts off passes for 75 points, while finishing 10-of-21 for 20 points off the dribble.
Not only did the ball move, but so did the Celtics. On defense, they were as active as they've been this season, playing the type of help defense you'd see on an instructional video, with players rotating quickly and contesting shots throughout the night.
It was an all-around performance that would have been encouraging to see on any night. The fact that it came on the second night of a back-to-back after a tough loss in Cleveland only added to the optimism.
"A lot more energy in the building," Garnett said. "We're trying to play better at home, trying to get that energy back, that edge after [Sunday's] loss. No one is happy about that. A totally different team today. We came in with a lot more energy, a lot more aggression.
"It's good to get a win at home. It's good to see Gino."
Now for the wet blanket: Monday's win came against a hapless and injury-riddled Detroit team whose record was only marginally better than that of the Indiana team the Celtics walloped last week.
The Pistons were playing without stars Rodney Stuckey and Ben Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince left the game in the first quarter with a back injury.
It's unlikely any combination of the three could have prevented Boston from running roughshod over Detroit, but the fact remains that Boston hasn't shown the ability to produce this type of effort against a quality opponent.
Still, Garnett focused on the positives.
"It is frustrating," Garnett said of his team's inconsistency. "I'm not even going to make up a word. It is frustrating because you know what you are -- you know what you are capable of. It doesn't matter if it's Cleveland or Detroit, that level of defense. I feel like tonight it was like an edge. We have to play like that every night.
"Our energy has to come from the defense and let it trickle into some easy points. Tonight, I'll take it. It was a great game for us to sit back and look at it, and say, 'Hey this is what we are.'"
With time running out before the postseason, Garnett still seems time to improve.
"The year isn't over. We still have a lot more basketball to play," he said. "Doc does a real good job about making sure that we stay focused on the game that is sitting in front of us. There is nothing that we can do about the future, there is nothing we can do about injuries, just trying to keep guys healthy and gain this momentum going into the later parts of the month. We can't do anything about the past. Every year is new, new personnel, new team, but you have to have the same consistencies and hard-working defense."
One day after the leadership talk, Perkins reserved all his praise for his own team.
"I think we came out with a lot of enegy," Perkins said. "Guys were mad about the loss we had Sunday and it showed. Guys played well and we had great team energy today."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.