AUBURN HILLS, Mich, May 14 (Ticker) --
Even with Antoine Walker
and Paul Pierce
in foul trouble, the Boston Celtics had no
trouble eliminating the Detroit Pistons.
The Celtics played a solid stretch without their superstars and
advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in
14 years with a 90-81 victory over Pistons.
The third-seeded Celtics closed out the Pistons in five games
and became the first lower seed to win a series in the 2002
playoffs. They await the winner of the conference semifinal
between New Jersey and Charlotte.
"I'm happy for my team, for the franchise and for the city of
Boston," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said. "It is great to be
playing for the Eastern Conference championship."
Antoine Walker scored half of his 16 points in the Celtics' dominant third quarter.|
Nathaniel S. Butler
Walker and Pierce each picked up their fifth fouls within two
minutes of each other early in the fourth quarter. As Walker
joined Pierce on the bench with 9:14 to go, Boston was clinging
to a 66-65 lead.
But with point guard Kenny Anderson
running the offense, the
Celtics actually built their lead without their two best
players. The duo returned with 4 1/2 minutes left and Boston
holding a 77-73 advantage.
"For that seven minutes that we were on the bench, every guy on
the team made a commitment to win this game, and Kenny was the
leader," Walker said. "He's the most consistent player on this
team -- he always has been -- and we knew he was going to be
able to do it for us. I'm very proud of the way that we showed
the world that this team is more than me and Paul."
"This is a team -- it isn't just me and Antoine," Pierce said.
"I was in foul trouble, and Antoine didn't play up to his
potential tonight, but the guys stepped up. Everyone was a
presence out there."
Pierce scored Boston's next seven points to widen the lead to
84-75 before Walker fouled out with 2:20 left. By that time,
the Pistons had squandered their opportunity to extend the
series. Anderson added another jumper and finished with 17
points and six assists.
"With Paul and Antoine in foul trouble all night, I told Kenny
that it was his night," O'Brien said. "He's probably going to
need some ice for his shooting elbow, but we needed him and he
stepped it up for us."
"I just played. I wanted to play hard," Anderson said. "I
wanted to get through to the Eastern Conference finals. I just
tried to keep focused. This is how I've been playing all year,
just trying to get us in the flow of things and let Antoine and
Paul take us home. When they need me, hey, I'm right there.
I've been coming through when I have to."
Pierce scored 18 points and Walker added 16 and 13 rebounds for
Boston, which is in the conference finals for the first time
since losing to Detroit in 1988. It has not reached the NBA
Finals since 1987 and won the last of its 16 championships in
"I think right now we have an opportunity of a lifetime and we
have to take full advantage of it," Walker said. "Being in the
Eastern Conference finals is going to be huge for us."
"The Celtics just played extremely well," Pistons coach Rick
Carlisle said. "They've got a great chance to go all the way to
the Finals and play for the championship."
scored 14 points and Tony Battie
added 10 and nine
rebounds for Boston, which shot 47 percent (34-of-73). Both
had key baskets with Pierce and Walker off the floor.
emerged from a series-long slump to score 22
points for the second-seeded Pistons, whose best season in more
than 10 years ended with four straight losses.
"We had a great season but we have to keep working to get to the
next level," Atkins said. "I think this is just the beginning
for this franchise as far as the building process. I think we
add a piece each year like we did last year, and see what we
come up with next year."
Detroit won 50 games, the Central Division title for the first
time since 1990 and a playoff series since 1991 but had huge
problems getting their offense untracked. They scored more than
85 points just once in the series, repeatedly firing away from
"The playoffs are like advanced citizenship -- you find out a
lot about yourselves and your team, especially after the first
round," Carlisle said. "In this situation, it becomes
excruciatingly tough to score, so it becomes a test of patience
and of wills. Tonight, Boston was simply better at that.
"We had some good looks in these four games, but Boston took
away the great looks and the easy baskets. Without those, it is
very hard to get points in the playoffs."
Star guard Jerry Stackhouse
scored just eight points on 3-of-18
shooting and Clifford Robinson
had just four on 2-of-10 from the
field. Detroit shot 36 percent (29-of-81), making 8-of-27
"It's a tough thing to swallow for me because scoring has been
something I've hung my hat on," Stackhouse said.
"It didn't seem like there was a single possession in the last
four games where our guys didn't give their all," O'Brien said.
"We made them struggle for a shot every time, and that tires a
The Celtics took control with an 8-0 run to close the third
quarter and open a 64-55 lead. Corliss Williamson
opened the final
period by scoring eight of Detroit's first 10 points as Pierce
and Walker picked up their fifth fouls.
Anderson made a jumper for a 68-65 lead, but Michael Curry
answered for Detroit. Jon Barry
rebounded a miss by Boston, but
Anderson picked his pocket in the backcourt and went in for a
layup and a 70-67 lead with 7:31 remaining.
"This felt like when I had the ball and I had to make something
happen," Anderson said. "Once again, it was like 'Kenny, take
us there.' And I came up big. It's a blessing.
"I can be the hero or the goat. It could have been the other
way around. But I would accept it. I'm a competitor. I want
to be in those type of situations."
After a dunk by Ben Wallace
, Rogers drilled a 3-pointer.
Anderson made a jumper for a 75-70 lead with 5:35 to play and
Battie hit an 18-footer between three free throws by Williamson
before Pierce and Walker returned with 4:07 to go.
Pierce immediately scored on a pretty reverse layup and answered
Williamson's basket with two free throws, making it 81-75 with
3:11 left. On the next possession, he drew a foul as he sank a
15-footer. The Pistons got no closer than seven points
"I just wanted to get back in there," Pierce said. "I was
confident that if the guys could keep it close while Antoine and
I were out, we would win the game. They did better than that;
I'm very proud of them."
Williamson scored 15 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and
Curry added 15 points for the Pistons. Ben Wallace had 16
rebounds and four blocks.
Detroit got an offensive boost from Atkins, who scored just 18
points in the first four games of the series and gave away
minutes at point guard to reserve Damon Jones
. He scored 15
points in the first half.
"I don't think our point guards were as aggressive as we should
have been," Atkins said. "I thought tonight we were more
aggressive. It's a learning process for everyone on this team."
Despite Atkins' outburst, the Celtics led 24-21 after one
quarter and 34-25 on a hook by Walker with 8:33 left in the
second quarter. But Pierce sat down with his third foul just
over a minute later and the Pistons pecked their way back,
taking a 46-45 halftime lead.
Detroit managed just 10 points in the third quarter. Boston
took the lead for good at 51-50 on a basket by Eric Williams
with 5 1/2 minutes to go.
"You can't score 10 points in any quarter in the playoffs,"
Atkins said. "Every mishap you have is a plus for the other
team. It makes it hard for us to win."