Maybe the defense of the Detroit Pistons choked the Celtics Monday night. Or maybe the Celtics just choked. Well, a little. Nobody said it was going to be easy for either team to win twice in the other's gym. The Celtics failed to do that in Game 4. If they could have pulled it off, they'd be poised to end the Eastern Conference Finals tonight at the Garden.
Maybe the defense of the Detroit Pistons choked the Celtics Monday night. Or maybe the Celtics just choked. Well, a little.
Nobody said it was going to be easy for either team to win twice in the other's gym. The Celtics failed to do that in Game 4. If they could have pulled it off, they'd be poised to end the Eastern Conference Finals tonight at the Garden.
What the Celtics couldn't do on Monday, the Pistons get a shot at in Game 5. That is, win a second game on the road and set themselves up to finish the series in Detroit on Friday. That's how fragile and tenuous all this is.
It's been a Jekyl & Hyde series. The teams have taken turns playing the roles. You may be a bit frustrated with the Celtics right now, but don't think Pistons fans aren't feeling the same anxieties about their team.
Here's something to consider. All the Celtics' playoff series have been tied 2-2, right? But the Hawks and Cavaliers, when it got to 2-2, hadn't found a way to win at the Garden. You felt fairly certain Boston would win that Game 5, and if it played out that the series would go seven games, the Celtics would take their chances with that. The Hawks or Cavs never did win a game in Boston.
OK, you can say the Celtics never won in Atlanta or Cleveland. But the two Game 7s at home were the difference, like they're supposed to be.
Now, the Pistons, who we know are better than the Hawks and the one-man team Cavs, have already beaten the Celtics on the parquet in this series. Which isn't to say they can do so again tonight. But they sure seem more likely to do so than the Hawks or Cavs ever did.
Bottom line, the Pistons know they can win in Boston. The Hawks and Cavs hoped to.
That said, this yo-yo way the Celtics are playing drives you nuts. Look, I understand that when the Celtics look lackluster, when they seem out of sync, it almost always has to do with the Pistons. They may mystify their fans occasionally - like in Game 3 - but they're a tough nut to crack.
If Detroit wins tonight, don't expect another Game 7 at the Garden on Sunday. Yes, I'm saying Boston can't win another game in the Palace.
The Pistons' chances of winning Game 5 will be greatly enhanced if they can shackle Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen like they did Monday. It was a damn embarrassing performance by them, and we know there's no need to think the Celtics can win this series without those three stepping up.
If they shoot anything close to their collective 11-for-38 again, there is no hope. Garnett and Pierce have usually balanced an off game with a rebound game. Not so with Ray Allen. He continues to be an enigma. How come one of the reputed best shooters of all time can't put the biscuit in the basket anymore? OK, he did in one game. He's got to do it again.
Celtics fans might even take some hope from the ineffectual play of Pierce, Garnett and Allen in Game 4. They're bound - at least two of them - to respond tonight, no? When the three of them are on the same page, you can see them beating anybody. If they're not, the Celtics are downsized to very good instead of really great.
If Allen's been subpar so has Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups. At least Billups has an excuse. Maybe there's something Allen isn't telling us.
Then there is the tale of the benches. Much like the starters, they've had their ups and downs. But there's no way the Celtics cam let Jason Maxiell go off like he did the other night. He shot 6-for-6 and was instrumental in shaping the outcome with a sensational block of an attempted Garnett dunk, sensational because Maxiell never gave up on the play and ran down Garnett to make the block from behind. The play seemed to shrink Garnett to about 6-feet, 1-inch.
It took some of the heart out of the Celtics. For the Pistons and the crowd, it did wonders.
If a part of the Celtics game plan is, in part, to make Antonio McDyess beat them, it's not working. They're making him look like Karl Malone. Twenty-one points and 16 rebounds Monday? Ridiculous. The guy's not that good.
Here we are, anyway. Another series tied 2-2 at the Garden. Only it's the Pistons this time. That makes it a little more uncomfortable.
(Lenny Megliola is a Daily News columnist. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org)