AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- In one of the top regular-season matchups in years, an unlikely player was the difference.
Just like the last time Boston played Detroit.
Rookie Glen Davis scored a career-high 20 points, giving the Celtics' Big Three a huge lift in a 92-85 win over Detroit on Saturday night in a marquee matchup that lived up to its billing.
For the first time this season, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce nor Ray Allen was the Celtics' leading scorer.
"They were stopping me and stepping up against Ray and Garnett," Pierce said. "And, that left Baby open."
Like Davis, Lindsey Hunter came off the bench and his feisty defense proved to be the pivotal factor in Detroit's 87-85 win on Dec. 19 at Boston.
Pistons coach Flip Saunders chose to keep Hunter inactive because he wants rookie Rodney Stuckey to gain experience for a possible matchup with the Celtics that will really matter.
Stuckey, Davis and everybody else on the court on this night in January got a sense of what the Eastern Conference finals in June might be like.
"It feels real good to contribute in a big game like this," Davis said. "But we can't get too excited. This isn't the last time we're going to see this team."
Even though the NBA-leading Celtics (29-3) are off to a dominant start, coach Doc Rivers said it was important to beat the Pistons, who advanced to the past five conference finals, won the 2004 title and gave Boston its only loss at home.
"Our players needed this," Rivers said. "We needed to return the favor."
The NBA probably wishes it could've asked both teams a favor, rescheduling the game to a day when more people could've watched it instead of the NFL playoffs.
Boston and Detroit entered the game with a combined winning percentage of .844, the third highest in the shot clock era after at least 30 games.
For the first time since 1981, two teams entered a game on January 5 with a combined 54 wins. For the first time since 2000, two teams played with each riding at least an eight-game winning streak.
"It was a fun game and we got excited," Rivers acknowledged.
The Celtics extended their winning streak, which started after losing to Detroit at home, to nine games, and snapped Detroit's run at 11.
"They're a little more happy than we were when we won our game at their place," Chauncey Billups said. "It was just a regular game for us with two good teams playing. They were kind of playing like it was the Super Bowl.
"There was probably a little more at stake for them and their psyche than it was for us."
Pierce wasn't apologizing.
"This was a huge win because we won on the road in a playoff atmosphere against a team that had won 11 straight," he said.
Boston topped Detroit (26-8) after overcoming a 12-point deficit and foul trouble.
Garnett was called for his second foul at the 7:34 mark of the first quarter, which helped Detroit go on a 17-0 run take a 20-10 lead. He returned early in the second quarter and helped Boston pull within two points at halftime.
When Garnett was in the game, Boston outscored Detroit by 23. When the superstar was on the bench, the Pistons outscored the Celtics by 16.
The Pistons clung to a three-point lead after three quarters. Then the Celtics took control with a 10-2 run -- with five points from Davis -- to take a 79-74 lead.
Detroit's comeback hopes were hurt by uncharacteristic misses at the free throw line by Billups and Richard Hamilton, who combine to make nearly 90 percent from the line.
With a chance to tie the game with 33 seconds left, Billups' 3-point attempt was an airball.
"I never like to see Chauncey shooting against us, because you expect him to make everything," Rivers said. "From my angle, that three was going right in."
Hamilton pulled the Pistons within a point with 2 1/2 minutes remaining, then Davis answered with a three-point play on a swooping layup and added two more shots in the lane in the final minute to seal one of the biggest wins for Boston in years.
Pierce scored 19 points, Garnett added 15 and Eddie House scored 10 points to join Davis as key contributors off the bench.
"The whole bench stepped up. They outplayed Detroit's bench, and that was the key to the game," Pierce said.
Allen was limited to nine points in part because he had five fouls.
Hamilton had 18 points, Billups scored 17, Rasheed Wallace added 16 points and Jason Maxiell contributed 13 points off the bench.