The success of the Boston Celtics this season may depend largely on the play of Vin Baker. After a poor performance contributed to his team’s first loss this season, Baker looks to bounce back as the Celtics visit the Detroit Pistons.
Baker played well with 15 points in Boston’s 98-75 season-opening win over Miami on Wednesday before turning in one of his best games in a Celtics uniform with 24 points and eight rebounds in a 93-91 win at Memphis on Friday.
He provided ample backup for Celtics guard Paul Pierce, who leads the team with 23.7 points per game. On a team of young players the veteran Baker needs to help fill the gap left by the off-season trade of Antoine Walker.
But Baker failed to step up Saturday, attempting just eight shots in 29 minutes and finished with only eight points as the Celtics lost 97-90 to New Orleans.
Pierce, who scored 25 points, led Boston on a 17-2 run to start the second half but got no help from his teammates as his fellow starters contributed 31 points in the game.
“We’re still a young team and we’re learning from our mistakes,” Pierce said. “We gave ourselves a chance and that’s all you can ask somebody after two nights on the road.”
Raef LaFrentz was strong off the bench with 17 points and could be inserted into the starting lineup if Baker begins to show the kind of form that saw him score just 5.1 points per game last season. Baker had left the team in the middle of last season to check into an alcohol rehab center.
The Pistons rebounded from Wednesday’s season-opening loss to Indiana with back-to-back road wins over Miami and Orlando.
Detroit held the Magic to just 13 points in the fourth quarter, including a scoreless effort from Tracy McGrady.
“We wore him down a little bit,” said Pistons center Ben Wallace, who had 13 points and pulled down 17 rebounds for the second time this season. “No one else really stepped up to take control over the game.”
It was the first meeting between the teams since the opening round of last season’s playoffs. Orlando held a 3-1 lead in that best-of-seven series, but Detroit rallied for three straight wins.
STANDINGS (through Nov. 3): Celtics - 1st place, Atlantic Division. Pistons - 1st place, 1/2 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Celtics - Pierce, 23.7 ppg and 8.3 rpg; James, 6 apg. Pistons - Hamilton, 18.3 ppg; Wallace, 16.3 rpg; Billups, 5 apg.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 2-2.
LAST MEETING: April 16; Celtics, 99-92. At Boston, Tony Delk scored 17 points for the Celtics and Danny Manning had 18 points off the bench for the Pistons as both teams closed the season bound for the playoffs.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Celtics - 1-1 on the road; Pistons - 0-1 at home.
INJURIES: Celtics - F Brandon Hunter (achilles); F Chris Mills (heel); C Kendrick Perkins (knee); F Eric Williams (knee); F Jumaine Jones (hamstring). Pistons - F Darvin Ham (wrist); G Hubert Davis (hamstring); G Lindsay Hunter (hamstring).