INGLEWOOD, CALIF., MAY 31 -- In one sense, it's a good thing for the Boston Celtics that it took them the full seven games to dispose of the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Eastern Conference finals. That has left the defending league champions just two days to prepare for the championship series against the Los Angeles Lakers, which will begin here Tuesday.
"Quickly. We have to prepare quickly, and that's the key word when dealing with Los Angeles," said Celtics assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers following Saturday's 117-114 conference finale. "Everything has to be quick because they're quick in everything they do."
Another thing that might help Boston is that both the Pistons and the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics' opponent in the conference semifinals, are predominately running teams.
"It won't be totally different because we've had excellent training these last two series," Rodgers said. "Both teams were intent on running against us and we had to do things to stop it. Now what we have to do is pick out the things that were successful and then move it all up to another level because the Lakers are playing so well."
For the Celtics, the finals are just the next step along a path that was supposed to have booby traps enough to end their three-year grip on the East. First, there were the Atlanta Hawks, the conference's new power. But the Central Division champions were eliminated by the Pistons.
After that, the Celtics were judged ripe for the taking because of injuries to mainstays Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Danny Ainge. But the team persevered against Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit, most likely because its players are too experienced, too good and too cocky to lose.
The Pistons are good and certainly exhibited cockiness during the playoffs, but it was inexperience that caught up with them against the Celtics. There was, of course, the horrendous pass by guard Isiah Thomas in the final seconds of Game 5 that led to a Celtics victory. Without that play, the Celtics might have been eliminated in six games.
And Detroit's lack of savvy also manifested itself in smaller ways: stretches in which the Pistons played out of control; questionable substitutions by the coaches; even something as simple as the inability to get a rebound in the Celtics' frantic six-shot sequence that led to Ainge's game-breaking three-point field goal in the fourth quarter Saturday. After having shown no hesitation to make physical contact, Detroit was surprisingly timid during the most important minutes of the game.
Afterward, the only things that had loosened up were the mouths of the Pistons.
"The finals won't last long," said rookie forward Dennis Rodman. "I'll never root for Boston as long as I live; they're not my favorite team -- if you know what I mean."
Thomas was even more impassioned in venting his frustrations.
"I'm sick of the way they treat people in this place. Maybe it'll change someday," he said from his cubbyhole in the Garden. "I can't say who they are because I don't want to get fined, but I think every person in America understands what happens in this building, and as an athlete, it's a shame that it does.
"No other sports team has enjoyed the advantage that the Boston Celtics have enjoyed in this building. When the Montreal Canadiens were the best thing going in hockey they never even had that kind of advantage."
But it wasn't mystique or favoritism that stopped the Pistons from grabbing a rebound before Ainge's shot, or caused Thomas to take an ill-advised one-on-four drive to the basket with just over a minute to play, or made Rodman strut about, flailing his arms after making any positive play for his team. That alone was enough to spur on the Celtics.
"I'd been waiting to do that Dennis Rodman dance since the beginning of the series," said Ainge after imitating the strut at game's end. "That wasn't intended for Detroit or anyone else on that team, just Dennis Rodman."
The Lakers have done their share of strutting during their 11-1 playoff run, but chances are they will be strictly business beginning Tuesday. Having been in enough of these Los Angeles-Boston affairs (the teams are playing the finals for the third time in four years), the Western Conference champions probably know better than to take things for granted or relax against their hobbled opponent.
"They are either going to beat the living crap out of us or it will be a helluva series," said McHale. "Someone asked me who I thought would give the Lakers a better series, and I said we would because we may get beat by 41, but we'll come back the next night and play hard for 48 minutes. Other teams would just pack it in, but we don't quit."