AUBURN HILLS, Mich. Antonio McDyess is relieved he didn’t retire when his knees and career were in shambles.
Playing his best playoff game in perhaps a decade, McDyess had 21 points and 16 rebounds to lift Detroit to a 94-75 series-evening win over the Boston Celtics on Monday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
McDyess’ banged-up left knee limited him to 10 games during the 2001-02 season in Denver, none the next and just 42 the following season with New York and Phoenix.
The former All-Star and Olympian was tired of rehabbing his left knee after one too many surgeries. McDyess told his agent, Andy Miller, he wanted to buy out of his contract at least twice during the 2003-04 season.
But he didn’t, and Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars, looking for an affordable replacement for Mehmet Okur, liked what he saw in McDyess.
"No one can understand where I’m coming from when I felt how I felt at that part of my career when I felt like it was over," McDyess said. "I mean, I was laying in the bed thinking, ‘Hey, this is going to be it.’
"And now, I’ve just reinvented myself coming to this team. Joe gave me an opportunity, and I just try to take full advantage of every second."
The 33-year-old power forward often plays with the most energy on a team that traditionally peaks and flops depending on whether its up, even or behind in a series.
"You only have so many opportunities, and they’re limited, especially for me," he said. "I’m at the end of my career, and I just feel like leaving everything out on the floor."
McDyess did just that, beating the Celtics to loose balls, defending them with strength and quickness and making most of his shots.
"Dice has been our best player in the postseason, and we’re all feeding off his energy," teammate and close friend Chauncey Billups said. "You see how hard he is working, and you can’t help but play hard."
Playing hard probably won’t be a problem for either team or any player during the rest of the Eastern Conference finals.
Game 5 is Wednesday night in Boston, then the Pistons will host Game 6 on Friday night. If Game 7 is necessary, the Celtics will play it at home Sunday night.
"It’s almost like 0-0 again, it’s a three-game series," Boston’s Ray Allen said. "We’ve got to protect our home court. We lost the last game at home, and definitely are going to have to win on their court for us to send a message or definitely move on."
The NBA’s top-seeded team won its first nine games of the postseason at home before losing Game 2 to Detroit.
The Celtics lost their first six road games until beating the Pistons in Game 3.
Boston‘s Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Allen combined to miss their first seven shots and finished 11-for-38 from the field.
Allen said it was a disappointing performance from the trio.
"We pride ourselves on making our teammates better and allowing them to make us better," Allen said.
Garnett and Pierce both scored 16 points and Allen had 11.
"They bumped us off spots and were more physical and aggressive all night," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Usually the winner is the team that was more aggressive. They had a no-layup rule and that’s why we made it to the line so much."
Richard Hamilton scored 20 points, Rasheed Wallace had 14 and five blocks, and Billups added 10 points, seven assists, two steals and no turnovers.
Reserve Jason Maxiell filled in well when Wallace was in foul trouble by scoring 14 points and playing tough defense on Garnett, notably on a come-from-behind block on a dunk attempt.
"Max made an unbelievable play," Billups said.
Detroit scored the first 10 points of the game and that was the key to the game, according to Garnett.
"Y’all don’t know how important beginnings of games are with flow and what you establish," he said.
The Celtics stayed in the game by making 17 of 20 free throws in the first half while Detroit was 5-for-9. Boston had more points from the line (32) than from the field early in the fourth quarter when it pulled to 67-62.
"We didn’t play well, but we hung in there by getting to the foul line," Rivers said. "Then, we just couldn’t make plays."
Detroit improved to 5-0 in games following losses in the playoffs.
"No one likes it, the way our team personality is," said Pistons coach Saunders, referring to his players penchant to play their best when down or doubted.
The Celtics fell to 1-7 on the road and 0-6 when trailing after three quarters.
Notes:@ Boston reserve James Posey had 11 points and Kendrick Perkins scored 10 before fouling out. … Hamilton has had 20-plus points in 71 playoff games since 2003, trailing only San Antonio’s Tim Duncan by two games during the same span.
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The Detroit Pistons are too.