Paul Pierce returned to the court tonight at TD Garden, and the Celtics returned to form in a 96-85 win over the Detroit Pistons, their first victory in four tries this season.
Pierce was effective if unspectacular in 22 minutes, hitting 4 of 8 shots from the floor for 12 points while adding four rebounds and five assists. It was the kind of all-around game fans expect from Pierce, in a smaller dose. Two key 3-pointers early in the third quarter triggered a run that put the game away.
How much credit Pierce gets for the resurgence of center Jermaine O'Neal is up for debate. After scoring eight total points in the season's first three games, O'Neal finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds in a game reminiscent of his days as an All-Star in Indiana. O'Neal's effectiveness -- or maybe Pierce's return --- allowed Kevin Garnett to rest (23 minutes).
While Pierce and O'Neal sparked the offense, another difference in the team's first win vs. their previous three losses is that, for the most part, the Celtics did a good job on defense. In the first half they limited the Pistons to 44-percent shooting. Detroit made just 1-of-9 3-pointers before halftime, and many of them were well-contested. The Pistons would end up shooting 43-percent for the game.
After telling reporters he wouldn't play Pierce much, Doc Rivers played Pierce for 15 minutes in the first half, third on the team behind Rondo and Garnett. O'Neal led the Celtics in scoring before the break with 10 points.
The Celtics got off to a great start in the second half, with Allen and Pierce hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to get the lead up to 13 points. Those shots started a 17-8 run over the first six minutes of the third quarter that gave the Celtics some breathing room. They extended that lead to 86-64 by the end of the period before putting the game away in an uneventful fourth.
The Celtics play the first of two back-to-back games with the Wizards Sunday in Washington.