Three years ago, Celtics - Pistons was the hottest matchup in the East. Then the Celtics overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter of Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Finals, and kept on going while the Pistons fell off the face of the Earth.
Despite Detroit's decline, however, the Pistons always seem to be good for at least one win per season against the Celtics. Detroit already picked up that win for this season back on December 30, during the usual Boston Christmas slump in a game that most will remember less for the final score than for the frightening calf injury sustained by Kevin Garnett.
Winners of seven of their last nine games, and fresh off a victory over the Orlando Magic, the Celtics are looking to put that slump firmly in the rear-view mirror with a victory over those same Pistons. It doesn't hurt that Kevin Garnett made his triumphant return to the lineup Monday, looking every bit like the same resurgent star that has had Boston fans so excited these past months.
The Pistons seem to be doing just fine against returning big men, however, and once again the Celtics are facing a bad team playing their best basketball of the season. Detroit, after all, just trounced the freefalling Mavericks 103-89 in Dirk Nowitzki's second game back from injury. Add that to wins over the Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings, and you've got a three game winning streak-their best of the season.
While the Pistons have gotten contributions from a number of sources over their winning streak, it's the bench that's really made the difference. Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva (whose objection to Kevin Garnett's trash talk earlier this season sparked off a minor controversy) have scored in the double digits for three straight games coming off the bench, while Will Bynum chipped in 18 points against the Kings. One player on the bench that hasn't been contributing, however, is fallen star Richard Hamilton, who hasn't seen the court in the last four games.
This strong bench unit could prove problematic to the short-handed Celtics. While Glen Davis' return to the second unit will likely be a big boost, the Celtics will still have to rely on hard-working but inexperienced rookies Luke Harangody and Semih Erden to fill out a unit that has at times struggled.
Still, the Celtics are, as usual, the better team here. At home, with a day's rest, they should be able to take care of Detroit.