By Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 31, 2008
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., May 30 -- The Boston Celtics were 1-7 on the road in the playoffs when they took the court here Friday night for Game 6. But they were able to win not only their second road game of the playoffs, but come from behind in the fourth quarter to beat the Detroit Pistons and reach the NBA Finals in the process.
"It's kind of surreal," Boston's Kevin Garnett said. "Probably hasn't even hit me yet because we haven't slept in about four days, going on five days now. Going to the Finals, I'm just hoping to get some sleep."
The Celtics demonstrated a tenacity on the road unlike their previous road games this postseason. They managed to defeat the Pistons, 89-81, and in doing so joined the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, which will begin Thursday in Boston.
It's the championship series so many basketball fans -- outside of Detroit and San Antonio -- have been hoping for since the playoffs began in mid-April. It will match two franchises that have won 30 of the NBA's 61 league championships. It also will feature plenty of star power, from Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol with the Lakers, to Boston's Big Three of Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.
"We're emotionally drained," Garnett said.
Pierce, who outdueled LeBron James in the Celtics' clinching victory over Cleveland in their previous series, led Boston with 27 points. Allen added 17 and Garnett 16.
The Celtics survived a desperate Pistons team, outscoring Detroit 29-13 in the fourth quarter after trailing 68-60 entering the period.
"It was the best fourth quarter we played all playoff long," Pierce said.
The Pistons got early offensive contributions from their battered back court of Chauncey Billups (29 points) and Richard Hamilton (21).
The Celtics held a 29-25 lead 15 minutes into the game primarily because Allen hit five of his eight shots, including 3 of 4 three-pointers for 13 points. Hamilton was playing tight defense on Allen but it didn't seem to matter. And it's not like Allen's points were a luxury, not with Garnett missing eight of his first 10 shots.
When the playoffs began, Garnett and Pierce, each all-stars multiple times, told ESPN they would favor Allen having the last shot in a critical playoff game on the line. But the worst shooting stretch of Allen's career led to intense questioning as to whether Allen, 32, could still light it up as he had for so many years.
Allen, after scoring 29 points in Boston to lead the Celtics in Game 5 and hitting those threes to stake his team to an early lead in Game 6, looked like himself again. Neither team shot 40 percent in the first half, so points were at a premium. The Celtics held the lead at intermission, 40-37, but the Pistons relied entirely the first 24 minutes on Hamilton and Billups, who combined to score 31 of the team's 37 points.
"This is really tough," Billups said. "We had it, and we didn't get over the hump."
The eye-opening news from the first half was that Rasheed Wallace failed to score a single point, going 0 for 5, and Garnett had four points and one measly rebound. Garnett's frustration might have gotten the best of him early in the third quarter, when he was called for a foul while shoving and trading meaningless elbows with Wallace.
Seconds later, Wallace picked up his fourth foul as well. There was irony in the fact that the two of them had annoyed some of their teammates at the end of Game 5 by engaging in a hug on the court. Pistons veterans Hamilton and Lindsey Hunter were particularly pointed in their criticism of Wallace for fraternizing with the enemy.
The Pistons actually appeared to be better with Wallace on the bench. Tayshaun Prince, who was 0 for 5, scored the moment Wallace took a seat and Billups followed with a three-pointer that tied the game after Detroit had fallen behind by five midway through the third quarter. Suddenly, the Pistons were playing both smarter and harder than the Celtics.
Rajon Rondo was being so decisively outplayed by Billups that Boston Coach Doc Rivers had no choice but to bench his young playmaking guard the final four minutes of the third quarter, by which time Billups had scored 24 points. It wasn't just that Rondo wasn't scoring (3-of-9 shooting) but he was making one lousy decision after another with the basketball, putting the Celtics in a position they didn't want to have to overcome late in such a critical game.
"It was probably the best thing because now we can say we have gone through some stuff and we're still standing," Rivers said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.