I didn’t care who came out of the Eastern Conference, as long as it wasn’t the Pistons, and I know I wasn’t alone. The Pistons get less love than perhaps any team that’s enjoyed as much success over a six-year span.
Why? Mostly because Detroit’s style of play has always sort of represented the worst of the Eastern Conference’s clutch-and-grab basketball, devoid of running and full of hand-checks. Their presence has long guaranteed the sort of game nobody could enjoy, unless you were a Detroit fan or really missed those 69-64 Knicks/Heat clashes in the early 1990s.
But there are other reasons to celebrate tonight’s demise of the Pistons, whose core players (Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton and Antonio McDyess) are actually older than the guys on the Spurs who still matter. Not having to hear Mason, the PA Announcer at the Palace at Auburn Hills, yell “Deeee-Troit … Bas-ket-baaaaallll” 40 times a game is an early Christmas present. Not having to watch Hamilton writhe on the court in agony may be even better. When Rip and Sam Cassell collided tonight, Hamilton looked as if he had broken his kneecap, even though during the replay it appeared Cassell got the worst of things. And that wasn’t as despicable as his display against Ray Allen, when Hamilton spent half a play grabbing at Allen’s shoulders, jersey and face before flopping in a fashion that all NBA fans hope will warrant a fine next season.
(Side note: imagine if Vlade Divac was still in the league when they proposed fines for excessive flopping. Would he stop playing defense altogether? Retire? Shave his beard? Start smoking cigs on the bench during games?)
It took a valiant effort for the Celtics to avoid playing in a third straight Game Seven, a seventh game I recently wrote was a certain inevitability (Example 3,429 why I should never get heavily into betting on sports). The officials weren’t handing the Celtics this game, even though Rasheed Wallace followed up his foul-mouthed tirade about the officiating after Game Five by yelling at Bennett Salvatore in Game 6 more than couples do in an average episode of “Cheaters.”
Kevin Garnett’s early foul trouble forced Doc Rivers to do something he should have all along, play Leon Powe. Powe played just seven minutes, but he added 4 points and was active enough defensively to take away any idea that Detroit would pounce with Boston’s best player out of the game. James Posey made his presence felt in his 20 minutes of action, including the steal of the game on Tayshaun Prince, who might still be looking for someone to pass to.
But this game belonged to the Celtic who’s been in Boston longer than anybody, Paul Pierce. Pierce was straight efficiency, scoring 27 points on only 12 field goal attempts. He got to the foul line (10-for-13), grabbed 8 rebounds, and had only one turnover. In fact, none of the Celts had more than two turnovers except Cassell, who somehow managed to turn the ball over 3 times and go 1-for-5 in only 12 minutes. Boston’s other ancient reserve, P.J. Brown, wasn’t much better in his 12 minutes with only 2 points and 1 rebound along with 4 fouls.
Boston’s bench looks to be their biggest disadvantage when looking ahead to the Lakers, who they now have until Thursday to prepare for. The starters are what make the Celtics go, and they gave a pleasant surprise to many in knocking out the Pistons tonight. One never knows how well any of Boston’s starters will play from game-to-game, but luckily they were good enough to get rid of Mason, Rip and the rest of the Pistons.