D. Lippitt/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Paul Pierce had plenty to smile about as his Celtics closed out the Pistons to earn the franchise's first trip to the NBA Finals since 1987.
Boston 89, Detroit 81
AUBURN HILLS, Mich., May 30 (AP) -- Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce walked together, sporting black hats with green four-leaf clovers, and tried to soak up the moment when both superstars became conference champions for the first time.
"My heart is beating faster,'' Pierce said.
Someone asked Garnett if he needed a water.
"I'm good,'' Garnett said.
KG and the Big Three certainly are.
Pierce scored 27 points, Ray Allen had 17 and Garnett added 16 to lift the Boston Celtics to an 89-81 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Boston got past an old nemesis to set up a matchup with another rival.
The Celtics, who locked up with Detroit many times in the 1980s, will now rekindle another classic series in the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
"It's kind of surreal,'' 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.''
After playing two Game 7s, the Celtics will get a needed break before hosting Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Thursday night.
"We're emotionally drained,'' Garnett said.
The Celtics are in the NBA finals for the first time since losing to the Lakers in 1987, the third meeting in a four-year span.
The Pistons blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost in Game 6 of the conference finals for the third straight year. They were eliminated on their home court for the first time during a six-year run that included a trip to the conference finals each year and the 2004 title.
"This is really tough,'' said Chauncey Billups, who scored a playoff-high 29 points. "We had it, and we didn't get over the hump.''
Boston entered the series without a road win in the postseason, then beat Detroit on its home court twice to win the grueling series. The NBA's top-seeded team also rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit for the first time in seven chances during the playoffs.
"It was probably the best thing because now we can say we have gone through some stuff and we're still standing,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
The loss might lead to changes on a Detroit team that has looked the same on the court for four seasons.
At one point Billups had 21 points, matching the total for the rest of the team.
Wallace scored just four points on 2-of-12 shooting and had three turnovers in what might've been his last game as a Piston and could've been Flip Saunders' last as Detroit's coach. President of basketball operations Joe Dumars will likely make some sort of moves on the bench, the court or both.
"I'm sure that's something Joe and I will sit down and evaluate,'' Saunders said.
Wallace made three trips to his locker -- with reporters surrounding it -- before finally saying something to the media without taking questions.
"That's the end, man,'' Wallace said.
After it was 58-all, Detroit closed the third quarter with a 10-2 run and took its first lead since midway through the opening quarter.
Just when it seemed the Pistons might be in control with a 70-60 lead early in the fourth, the Celtics scored nine points in less than 2 minutes and went on a 19-4 run that put them ahead 79-74.
Billups' three-point play pulled Detroit to 83-79 with 2:24 left, then the Pistons wasted a chance to get closer.
"He looked to his left, put the ball out and I just snatched it,'' Posey said.
Pierce made two free throws on the possession, putting the Celtics up by six with 1 1/2 minutes to go.
The Pistons failed on their 3-pointers down the stretch and couldn't take advantage of Garnett and Pierce missing three free throws in the final 40 seconds.
The Pistons were eliminated at The Palace for the first time since Pierce helped Boston do it in the second round of the 2002 playoffs. Detroit had won its previous five games this postseason when coming off a loss.
With only one title and two NBA Finals appearances during its impressive six-year run, the franchise will draw more comparisons to baseball's Atlanta Braves.
The Celtics, meanwhile, validated their bold move of adding Garnett and Allen to join Pierce. Garnett and Pierce played key roles in the decisive fourth quarter, outscoring Detroit 20-13.