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Celtics take advantage of no-show Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Chauncey Billups is 6-3, an All-Star guard for the Detroit Pistons. One of his nicknames is "Smooth."

Kendrick Perkins is 6-10 and 280 pounds of hulking, plodding center for the Boston Celtics. He's not a bad player, but he's so nondescript he has no nickname, other than "Perk." He's such a banger that it might as well be "Tree" or "Oak."

So when a defensive mix-up left Perkins covering Billups in the open court of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday, you could feel confident that Billups would cross up Perkins on a dribble and whip right past him.

It should happen 100 out of 100 times, even with Billups' hamstring bothering him. At least if Billups is paying attention.

Naturally, he wasn't, and Perkins, a man who is averaging 0.3 steals a game in his career, took the ball mid-dribble.

He stole it from Billups like he knew what he was doing. Of course, he didn't really know what he was doing, evident when Perkins tried to dribble up court only to bounce the ball off his knee and get his feet tangled up like a center is supposed to in the open court.

Not that it mattered.

When Kendrick Perkins is making open-court steals on Chauncey Billups, the game is over. The Pistons, famed in part for their no-shows, weren't showing up for this one.

Boston 94, Detroit 80.

So much for the series hinging on the Celtics' inability to win on the road; it just swung on the Pistons' ability to lose at home. Boston now has a 2-1 lead and a tremendous opportunity to seize control of the series Monday in Game 4.

"Maybe losing at home and taking away that security blanket made them focus more," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers of regaining the home-court advantage the Pistons stole Thursday.

The Celtics deserve credit for playing a great game. They jumped Detroit immediately, opening the game with two dunks en route to an 11-0 lead. They withstood an early Pistons run and then ran away with it. Only a furious, and too late, surge by the Pistons made it close.

Boston had six players reach double figures, including big-time efforts by non-Big Three members Perkins (12 points, 10 rebounds and, of course, one steal) and guard Rajon Rondo.

As good as Boston was, however, this was about how bad Detroit played. The Celtics' bench couldn't contain their disbelieving smiles in the first half as the Pistons failed to defend (Boston shot 55.2 percent), crash the boards or even hustle.

"You (saw) what happened," guard Rodney Stuckey said. "We didn't come out and play from the beginning. Point blank. We didn't give (any) effort at all starting the game. That killed us."

How and why the Pistons would let a 66-win regular-season team regain control of a series with virtually no resistance is inexplicable, even to them. Detroit claims if "it ain't rough, it ain't right," but wasn't that the point of ending Boston's almost two-month home-winning streak Thursday? Is the Eastern Conference finals, against the No. 1 seed, media darling, establishment power Celtics, not enough to get anyone's attention?

Did the Pistons wish they were downtown watching the Stanley Cup finals?

Anyone?

"We were not aggressive at the point of attack," offered coach Flip Saunders.

"It's like a snowball effect," Billups said. "Too many breakdowns."

"There (are) no excuses why we shouldn't have won tonight," Stuckey said. "We were slow today. It can't happen. We had a good advantage to take this series over but we didn't do it."

Instead, Boston has the advantage again. All the doubts and questions about whether this team was capable of winning away from the Boston Garden faded into thin air before the first half was done.

The Celtics kept saying their road woes meant nothing, but now that it was behind them, it felt like a monkey off their backs.

"More like a gorilla," Paul Pierce said. "That's why we came out from the start of the game. I think the loss (in Game 2) rejuvenated us."

What that means going forward is impossible to figure in a series that has swung around unpredictably. Who knows who shows up Monday?

At the least, Boston eyes Memorial Day as an opportunity to all but lock up a berth in the Finals, where their eternal rival Lakers might be waiting.

A weekend road sweep for Boston? Coming into Saturday, that was as improbable as Kendrick Perkins picking Chauncey Billups' pocket in midcourt.