Cedric Maxwell and Larry Bird led a second-half comeback that helped Boston win its fifth straight before 12,147 at the Silverdome.
The Pistons took advantage of cold shooting by Boston and held a 65-50 halftime lead. The Celtics outscored Detroit, 31-16, in the third quarter and the game was tied at 81 as the fourth quarter began.
Detroit took a 100-95 lead with three minutes left, but Kevin McHale put Boston ahead for good with a dunk with 1:30 left.
"This team has a lot of character and had the ability to come from behind," said Bird, who also had 18 rebounds. "We really didn't have any fear when we were so far behind.
"It's real tough playing a team so many times in a short span (three games in 16 days). Teams get very physical. It was almost like the playoffs."
Maxwell scored 16 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. Bird, held to eight points in the first half, finished with 23 points.
Isiah Thomas had 20 points and Bill Laimbeer 19 for Detroit, which lost its fifth in six games. "I've said it all along that we're not in the top echelon of teams yet and you saw why tonight," said Detroit Coach Scotty Robertson. "We tightened up in the second half of a ballgame we should have won. We're not mature enough yet to develop that killer instinct."