AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Midway through the fourth quarter, the Palace interior took on a decidedly different look.
Instead of people, there were only seats with black raspberry-colored backs.
"I saw all these people leaving, and, at first, I wanted to go with them," Celtics guard Derek Smith said. "It scared me. I thought something bad had happened, because they never leave here that way.
"Then I looked up at the scoreboard and saw we were up by 26."
Emptying an opponent's arena may be one of the most rewarding feelings for an athlete. It means you've done your job, and, for the Celtics, that has been a rare occurrence on the National Basketball Association road.
But, yesterday, the Celtics delivered when the alternative would have been most unpalatable. Brian Shaw played like the Brian Shaw of earlier this season, and the Celtics routed the Pistons, 115-83, to take a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
This one ranks as one of the Celtics' biggies. A defeat would have extended their Palace losing streak to nine and would have made tomorrow night's game an absolute must.
Instead, they jumped on the defending champs from the outset, outscored them in all four quarters, got spectacular play from their point guards and turned in their third straight strong defensive effort.
The Celtics entered the fourth quarter in a most enviable state: Ahead, 90-62, They could go scoreless and still win. Instead, they continued to put the hammer down and rolled to their biggest road playoff win ever. And the Pistons had their worst Palace defeat.
"This was the greatest feeling of all season," said Reggie Lewis, who led Boston with 21. "If you wanted a dream game, this was it."
The Pistons shot 33 percent from the field, 47.2 percent from the line and had a lot of Sacramento Kings in their game. Their fans even booed them.
"We deserved it," said John Salley, the one and only Piston who had any clue on offense. "This is the first time I felt like we gave up. It used to be, 'OK, we're not going to win the game, but let's at least win the fight.' I'm not used to this. It's a strange feeling."
Isiah Thomas returned to the lineup, but he was 3-for-13 from the field. He said his sore right foot wasn't any better than it was Thursday, but he decided to go anyway. Joe Dumars was 2-for-12.
Throw in unfathomable free-throw shooting (17 of 36) and you have a team determined to get bludgeoned.
"I've never seen anything like it in my NBA career," said Mark Aguirre. "Twelve guys playing badly. All 12."
And it was just the opposite for the Celtics. Shaw (19 points, eight rebounds, five assists) was poised and confident. Lewis got them off to a strong start. Larry Bird shot like a Piston (4-for-11); it didn't matter.
Robert Parish went 22 minutes on a sore right ankle and still managed 13 points and 11 rebounds. Kevin McHale had 16 points, Dee Brown 13 and Ed Pinckney provided quality time off the bench.
Celtics coach Chris Ford couldn't have asked for anything more.
"Our guys came out with a lot of intensity and were poised for 48 minutes," said Ford. "This is a big plus for us. But we're not as good as we looked today, and they're not as bad. It's only one game."
The Celtics established from the outset that things would be different. An 8-2 closing run made it 27-19 after one and then five straight Shaw points before halftime, including a huge three-point play after a block by Brown, made it 54-41 at the half.
Everyone figured the Pistons would reload at halftime, assert themselves defensively and make it a game. It never happened.