BOSTON — Doc Rivers knows the current Celtics aren't as good as the team that won the NBA title in 2008. His goal is to have them playing that way again in time for the playoffs.
“It's coming around,” Rivers said Monday night after Paul Pierce scored 12 points in the first quarter to set up a 119-93 victory over the Detroit Pistons. “It's still not there, but that was great to see. He looked explosive. I think he's getting closer, and our team's getting closer.”
Pierce finished with 15 points in 17 minutes, Ray Allen and Michael Finley each scored 15 and Kevin Garnett had 14 points and eight rebounds.
For the second straight home game, Boston rested its starters in the fourth quarter while beating up on a non-contender. But in between was a 104-93 loss at Cleveland that could be a more important measurement of where the Celtics stand in the playoff hunt.
“After that miserable display yesterday, we had to come back strong,” said Rasheed Wallace, who scored eight points.
The Celtics are 32-12 with their regular starting five, but they've been a .500 team since beating Orlando on Christmas Day, in part due to injuries. Pierce missed a week around Christmas and a handful of games in the second half with thumb, knee and foot injuries; Garnett missed two-thirds of January with a sore right knee.
Now that everyone is healthy, Rivers is struggling to get them to work together like he thinks they can.
“We didn't plan on the injuries happening, but they did,” he said. “We've struggled to get the rhythm back. But we've got to.”
Will Bynum had 16 points and seven assists, and Jason Maxiell had 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Pistons, who lost their second straight game and their ninth out of 11.
Rookie Jonas Jerebko scored all 10 of his points in the third quarter.
“They were good. We were bad,” Pistons coach John Kuester said. “It was one of the few games that our energy wasn't the way it should be, and I'm disappointed with the way we played.”
Detroit lost starting forward Tayshaun Prince with 4:53 left in the first quarter when he was kneed in the back by Maxiell. Prince fell backward into Maxiell's knee, then remained on the floor for several minutes, holding his back, before limping off with assistance.
He did not return.
Prince, who played 82 games in each of the previous six seasons, missed 26 games early this season with a back injury. The Pistons were already without guard Rodney Stuckey, who missed his fifth straight game since collapsing on the bench during a game at Cleveland and being taken away on a stretcher.
“We've been hurt all year, and another guy goes down,” said guard Richard Hamilton, who scored 14 points. “It's one of those things where you're like, 'Come on, man. Are you serious?' But it's tough.”
Pierce scored 12 points in the first 6:39 of the game and helped the Celtics open an 18-point lead in the first quarter. He played just 30 seconds in the second quarter, when the Celtics used a 19-5 run to open a 29-point lead, before picking up his third foul.
He wasn't needed much in the second half, either.
Boston led by as many as 33 points, 82-49, but the Pistons cut it to 19 at the end of three.
NOTES: Another development that Red Auerbach would have never allowed: Fans did the wave in the second quarter. Longtime observers said they could not remember that happening at a Celtics home game, ever. ... Allen passed George Gervin and moved into 31st place on the NBA's career scoring list with 20,716. ... Three-time Slam Dunk Competition champion Nate Robinson was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a breakaway dunk in the final minute. ... The Celtics beat Indiana by 19 on Friday. ... The 34 assists for Boston tied a season high. Eleven players had at least one, and no one had more than Rondo's six.