AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — It was just two seasons ago that the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons played in the Eastern Conference finals.
Things have changed.
Boston entered Tuesday’s game coming off one of its worst performances in recent memory — a humiliating home defeat by the hapless Nets — while the Pistons are headed for their first 50-loss season in a decade.
Fittingly, it was a refugee from another devastated NBA franchise that ended up being the difference in an ugly game. Nate Robinson, playing his fourth game with Boston after being acquired from the Knicks, scored 14 points in 15 minutes to help the Celtics win 105-100.
“That’s exactly what we need from Nate,” said Boston coach Doc Rivers. “We want to wind him up and let him go. I felt like we had to get him comfortable, so we put in one of the Knicks’ plays and ran that for him in the fourth quarter. The other four guys were uncomfortable, but Nate was comfortable and he hit the shots.”
Detroit (21-39) led 77-73 early in the fourth, but three 3-pointers by Robinson helped Boston go on a game-winning 16-4 run.
“This was big for us,” said Ray Allen, who scored 18 points. “Nate was big. He can get to the basket, he can hit the mid-range stuff and he can get the 3-ball. That helps us a lot with the second unit.”
The Pistons have lost four in a row despite leading in the fourth quarter of every game.
“We played a great game for three quarters, but they really hurt us with the 3-pointers at the start of the fourth,” Pistons coach John Kuester said. “We’ve got to get better at closing out games.”
Paul Pierce committed a foul with 1:13 left and the Celtics leading 95-90, and rookie Jonas Jerebko went to the free throw line. After protests from the Celtics, though, the officials sent Ben Wallace to the line, and he missed both shots.
Wallace, who left moments later with a minor knee injury, is now 2 for 20 from the line in Detroit’s last five games.
“Ben has been in this league for a long time, and he knows that he has to work his way out of this,” Kuester said. “It’s certainly not a question of effort — he’s the first one in the gym and the last one out. He hits 70 percent in practice, but he’s got to go to the line and make them in the games.”
Boston had missed a chance to take control of the game in the third quarter. Rasheed Wallace badly missed a short jumper that would have given the Celtics a double-digit lead, and his former team responded with a 19-8 run that gave it a 75-72 advantage going into the fourth.
“We had a great chance, but you can’t miss opportunities against a team like the Celtics,” Pistons guard Ben Gordon said. “We knew they were going to have a strong finish, especially after what happened in their last game.”
NOTES: Pierce returned after missing three games with a sprained thumb, but Kendrick Perkins (flu-like symptoms) missed the game. … Wallace is listed as day-to-day with a sore knee. … Jerebko scored 16 points on his 23rd birthday after being named the Eastern Conference’s rookie of the month for February. … Rajon Rondo finished with 11 assists, and has now reached double figures in seventh straight games, the longest streak by a Celtic since Tiny Archibald did it in seven straight games in 1981-82.