It wasn't a good night for the Detroit Pistons, who lost Isiah Thomas to still another injury, had a terrible shooting game and scored only 86 points.
It was a great night.Suffocating inside defense, superior rebounding and strength of purpose - plus the absence of Larry Bird - gave them an 86-75 victory over the Boston Celtics in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday night.
"We had to make a commitment to winning a championship," Detroit's Bill Laimbeer said. "In the first round, we felt ourselves out to see if we were willing to do it."
The Pistons, seeking their third straight NBA title, routed Atlanta 113-81 to clinch that five-game series Sunday, then maintained their intensity and defense against Boston.
"We were electric," Laimbeer said. "We were ready to play the game."
The Celtics weren't.
They scored their fewest points in a playoff game since the 24-second clock was introduced in 1954-55, erasing the record set in an 83-77 loss at Philadelphia on May 1, 1977. They also had 75 points in a playoff game against New York on March 29, 1953.
Bird wasn't ready either.
The star of Sunday's 124-121 win that clinched the first-round series over Indiana was sidelined with back spasms. He played all five games against the Pacers after back problems caused him to miss seven of the last eight regular-season games.
The Celtics also lost center Robert Parish with a turned left ankle with 3:55 left, while Thomas was hurt with 6:10 remaining when Boston's Dee Brown, landing after a layup attempt, stepped on his right foot.
Thomas, still troubled by a swollen right wrist and a pulled left hamstring, suffered a sprained foot, but X-rays were negative.
Parish was expected to play in Thursday afternoon's second game of the best-of-7 series, while the status of Thomas and Bird was listed as day-to-day.
"This," said Detroit coach Chuck Daly, "is going to be a war of attrition."
Mark Aguirre's layup with 2:41 left in the first quarter put the Pistons ahead to stay 36-34, and they led 40-37 at halftime. They took control with a strong second-half start.
They outscored Boston 10-3 in the first five minutes, hitting five of 10 shots, while the Celtics made 1-for-7. The run put the Pistons ahead 50-40 and they led by at least five points the rest of the way.
Bird's absence affected almost every aspect of the Celtics' game.
He is their best defensive rebounder, and the Pistons grabbed 17 offensive rebounds.
He is their best passer, and they had a season-low 10 assists.
His outlet passing off a rebound often starts the fast break, and Detroit was able to force the game into a slower tempo.
He is their best outside shooting threat, and they sank a season-low 28 shots on a season-low 71 attempts.
"Our inability to hit the outside shots magnified our problems," Boston's Kevin McHale said. "That's where Larry would have made the difference."
James Edwards, who led Detroit with 18 points, said that without Bird on the perimeter, "we were clogging up the middle. It puts a lot of pressure on their young guys to hit the outside shot."
"The guards played a big part in (stopping Boston's) post-up game," Laimbeer said. "It was our job to push the big guys out where the guards could get them."
"The defense they play is tough on the perimeter guys," Boston's Brian Shaw said. "We want to concentrate on taking the ball to the basket and they force us to take the jump shots and if they're not going , you're almost reluctant to shoot them."
The Celtics, who led the NBA with a 51.2 shooting percentage, made only 39.4 percent of their shots despite having many open jumpers. That still was better than Detroit's 38.4 percent, but the Pistons managed 15 more shots because of their rebounding dominance.
They held a 55-40 advantage off the boards and limited the Celtics to seven offensive rebounds. Detroit's Dennis Rodman had 16 rebounds, 13 on the defensive end.
"Dennis Rodman played a great game. It's the same thing every night," Daly said. "I take him out and I bite my tongue."