Not even a week of rest could prepare the Detroit Pistons for the hottest home team in the NBA.

Kevin Garnett had 26 points and nine rebounds and Paul Pierce scored 22 points last night to lead Boston to an 88-79 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, the Celtics' 15th straight home win.

Despite having just 1 day off after an epic Game 7 that eliminated Cleveland from the conference semifinals, Boston scored the first eight points against a Detroit team that waited 6 days for the series to start.

"Rest is not an option," Garnett said. "So we don't even think about that."

Kendrick Perkins had 10 rebounds for Boston and Rajon Rondo scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, hitting a three-pointer with 1:47 left in the game after the Pistons cut the deficit to 83-75. Rondo also had seven assists and five steals while outplaying Chauncey Billups, the MVP of the 2004 NBA Finals, in his return from a hamstring injury.

"I believe in him. I play him. I'm going to keep playing him," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of his point guard.

The Celtics earned home court through the playoffs with a league-best 66-16 regular-season record and rode that advantage to seven-game victories in series against Atlanta and Cleveland. Last night they improved to 9-0 at home in the playoffs, but they're 0-6 on the road.

Game 2 of the series will be played tomorrow in Boston.

"They haven't lost a game; they should be confident," said Billups, who missed the last 2 1/2 games of the Orlando series. "They have been very good here at home. We are usually a really good team; we didn't have a good game today, but we look forward to [tomorrow]."


* Charles Barkley has retired his debt to a Las Vegas Strip casino that sued him after he failed to pay $400,000 in gambling loans, but the civil lawsuit remains open, and that will cost Sir Charles $40,000 more.

"We received a check this afternoon from Mr. Barkley, and it's been sent to the district attorney," said Jennifer Dunne, spokeswoman for Wynn Las Vegas. The resort filed a civil complaint May 14 in Nevada state court alleging Barkley failed to repay four $100,000 casino markers, or loans, received last Oct. 18 and 19.

"We've been paid in full," Dunne said. "The rest is the district attorney fee."

* The San Antonio Spurs' departure from New Orleans after winning Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals was delayed several hours after their plane had mechanical problems, and when the team could not find hotel rooms in the city, the players had to sleep on the plane.

* NBA commissioner David Stern wants to have a talk with Tim Donaghy after the disgraced referee is sentenced in July for taking cash payoffs from gamblers and betting on games he officiated. Stern said the league has already asked Donaghy's lawyer, John F. Lauro, for a sit down and been rebuffed.

* Denver Nuggets coach George Karl has undergone left hip replacement surgery, and is expected to resume walking without a cane in a week to 10 days. *