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Published: Monday, 5/26/2008

Off game by Billups hurts Pistons

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Pistons' greatest advantage in their matchup with the Boston Celtics was supposed to be their deep well of playoff experience.

It showed up in Game 2 when they became the first team to knock off the Celtics in Boston this postseason.

But the sense of experience was absent in Game 3, and that's why they're behind 2-1 in the Eastern Conference finals. Game 4 is tonight at 8:30 at the Palace.

For an example look no further than the role of guard Rodney Stuckey, the still-green rookie, who showed the most poise and played with the most purpose among all the Pistons on Saturday. The older Pistons were left asking questions.

"I can't tell you why, nor do I like it. For whatever reason, we've done things like this a lot of times, and I hate it and a lot of the guys hate it," Chauncey Billups said. "But it's who we've been. We always find a way to work ourselves out of these kind of situations."

At times in Game 3's 94-80 loss, the other Pistons yielded to Stuckey to make plays. Stuckey, out of Eastern Washington, had 17 points, four steals and four assists off the bench. He played more minutes than Billups, which spoke to each player's effectiveness. Billups had just one basket in 27 minutes and it came in the closing minutes when the game was decided.

After saying he didn't want to talk about his nagging hamstring injury anymore, Billups admitted yesterday he didn't do what the Pistons needed him to do.

"I thought I just didn't really personally do a good job of leading," Billups said. "The game got away from us early, and I think I didn't step up enough vocally when guys were missing coverages and when things weren't going right."

Pistons coach Flip Saunders said after Saturday's loss that tonight's game is the most important of the year for Detroit.

"We can't have anything less than all-out, throw-your-body type of energy," Saunders said.

Starting the game well tonight will provide fuel for the spirit Saunders is looking for. After falling down 11-0 to begin Game 3, the Pistons exerted a lot to come back and take the lead and couldn't respond when the Celtics went on another run to end the quarter.

"We've got to get off to better starts," Saunders said. "We're getting off to such bad starts, we're getting down 8-0, 10-2, then all of a sudden you're falling behind. And one guy gets the ball and one guy thinks, well, I've got to get us going because we're not getting us going. And he tries to do things one-on-one, and that's out of character for us."

The Celtics were able to take advantage of the Pistons' frail start on Saturday, but know they can't always expect that.

"I just feel like with Detroit you can't let your guard down," Boston's Kendrick Perkins said. "They've been in this position before. Them losing one game in their building is not pressure on them. I know they're going to come out the next game with a very high energy level and just come out and compete."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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