The Boston Celtics clinched their first NBA championship appearance since 1987 with a 89-81 win over the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals yesterday.
Boston Celtics guard Eddie House, facing camera, celebrates with forward Paul Pierce (34) and guard Sam Cassell after the Celtics defeated the Detroit Pistons 89-81 in Game 6 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference finals in Auburn Hills, Mich., yesterday, to advance to the NBA finals.
After trailing by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Celtics rallied behind the play of Paul Pierce, who scored 27 points to power Boston to its second consecutive win in the best-of-seven series.
Boston will now face Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, reviving one of the league's storied rivalries in a series due to start on Thursday.
The loss knocked the Pistons out of the Eastern Conference finals for the third consecutive year after defeats by Miami in 2006 and Cleveland last year.
For Boston, meanwhile, the conference championship caps one of the NBA's most dramatic turnarounds in recent years.
The Celtics won just 24 games a year ago before key trades brought Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to Boston to join Pierce in a high-powered line-up that became known as the Big Three.
"I just remember being at the bottom of the ocean and wondering how I was going to get back to the top," said Pierce, who scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter. "What a difference a year makes."
Allen added 17 points while Garnett scored 16 points for the Celtics, who outscored Detroit 29-13 in the final quarter. The Celtics also got a boost from key plays down the stretch from Rajon Rondo and James Posey.
Rondo hit a 20-foot jump shot to open up a seven point lead with 2:34 left in the game.
Less than a minute later, Posey, a free agent the Celtics also picked up last year, shot from behind to steal the ball from Tayshaun Prince, taking any remaining momentum for Detroit with it.
"James Posey defensively was phenomenal and Rajon hit a big shot for us," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
He added: "I guess if you're going to go to the Finals, I don't know if you could script a better way than the way we're going."
The Celtics and the Lakers have met 10 times in the NBA Finals. In 1987, the last time Boston made it to the championship, the Celtics lost in six games to the Lakers.
Pistons coach Flip Saunders said the momentum swung hard against his team last night after Detroit fought to take the lead back at the start of the second half.
"We played at such an energy level to get back in the game," Saunders said. "It just got to a point where we couldn't make a big shot."
Detroit's Chauncey Billups scored a game-high 29 points, his highest tally of the series. Rip Hamilton had 21 points. Both of the Pistons stars had been playing through injuries.
(Agencies via Shanghai Daily May 31, 2008)