By winning 66 games during the regular season, the Boston Celtics secured home court advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s a good thing they did, because based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, they are going to need it if they are going to be crowned NBA champions for 2008.
Last night, the Celtics overpowered Lebron James & the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-92 and won their best of seven series 4 games to 3. Paul Pierce led Boston with 41 points and Kevin Garnett added 13 points and 13 rebounds. Boston also got solid contributions from rarely used bench players, Eddie House and PJ Brown. House provided lots of hustle and energy while Brown's critical jumpshot with 1.22 remaining pushed Boston’s lead to 3, 92-89 and effectively sealed the match.
Cleveland was of course carried by Lebron James who finished with 45 points but he had little support, Delonte West’s 15 points the only other Cav to score in double figures.
Cleveland's season is now over while the Celtics advances to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2002.
It’s hard to gauge exactly how good this Boston team is. Throughout the playoffs, they’ve been fine when playing at home. For most of the time, they’ve dominanted their opponent, rarely looked in trouble and have won all 8 games. On the road though, it’s been a different story where the Celtics have been hesitant and tentative and has failed to register a win in the 6 games played away from the TD Banknorth garden. It’s been a Jekyll and Hyde act of utmost proportions.
The Celtics now face the Detroit Pistons. Detroit needed only 5 games to defeat the Orlando Magic in the conference semi finals and makes its sixth consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Pistons playoff campaign started off slowly this year as they dropped two of their first three games to the Philadelphia 76ers and trailed 2-1 in the series. For Detroit, coach Flip Saunders’ frantic neck twitching began in earnest as it appeared as though an upset might be on the cards. But one of the Pistons many strengths is their experience and they quickly rattled off 7 wins from the next 8 games to get their post season back on track.
Boston and Detroit are evenly matched and both teams boast a handful of All-Stars brought together under vastly different circumstances.
In Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, two-thirds of Boston’s ‘big 3’ came about in an off season which featured lots of noise and fanfare. Detroit on the other hand is a team with a ‘big four’ at its core and has a group which has played together for nearly 5 seasons.
Led by Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, Piston’s GM Joe Dumars built his team by using a group of very talented players who were considered misfits at other teams. Tayshaun Prince aside, for whatever reasons Billups, Hamilton and Wallace didn’t quite fit at their previous teams, they have flourished playing together in Detroit. They are unselfish and epitomize what team work is all about. It’s no coincidence that the style the Piston’s play mimics Dumars’ style as a player.
It was 21 years ago when these two teams fought a titanic 7 game series in the eastern conference semi finals which was eventually won by Boston. The most memorable moment of that series was when Larry Bird stole Isiah Thomas inbounds pass late in game 5 and Boston won a game they looked certain to lose. Legendary Celtics announcer Johnny Most’s throaty calling of the play no doubt still rings loudly in Pistons’ fans ears.
Ever since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen signed with Boston, this is the match up that every basketball fan has wanted. Now, it's for real. It will be a tight, low scoring series.
Both teams start with a solid defence but also have strong offensive units with more than capable shooters and scorers.
If the Pistons are to win this series, they will need to find a way to break through and win in Boston. Boston's home form has meant that they've been able to survive their road deficiencies so far, but one slip up at home could spell disaster. The Hawks and Cavaliers were unable to steal that crucial victory in Boston but I think Detroit will.....like it was 21 years ago, get set for another classic.....Pistons in 7.