By Matt Richardson
We’re going to the Finals!! The Celtics beat Detroit 89-81 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in 21 years. Awaiting the C’s in the Finals are the LA Lakers, who Boston will tussle with for the title for the 11th time.
In getting to the Finals the Celtics closed out Detroit on their home floor for only their second road win of these playoffs, and closed out their first series in less than 7 games. All the above make this an impressive win, but the way they won the game was the most impressive thing, and should silence the critics who harped on the “barely hanging on” nature of Game 5.
The C’s got important contributions from each member of the Big Three as they seemed to complement each other throughout the game. Ray Allen got off to a very hot start and allowed the C’s to keep the game close and competitive early on, avoiding an early Detroit surge that many fans assumed was coming. Ray had 13 points midway through the 2nd quarter and ended up with 17 points on 6-12 shooting, including 3 3-pointers, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists.
Kevin Garnett was ice cold early on but found his shooting stroke in the second half to hit several big buckets for the C’s down the stretch while battling foul trouble. KG finished with 16 points on 7-16 shooting with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. The Captain hung tough offensively throughout the contest, mixing in a variety of shots in and around his 2 cohorts hot streaks. Pierce finished with a team high 27 points, going 8-12 from the field and 10-13 from the line. The free throws were significant in two regards; first they indicate that he did not settle for jumpers but instead attacked the basket, and second he made sure to be aggressive in the fourth when Detroit was in the penalty. Pierce also added 8 points and 3 assists and on the defensive end held Tayshaun Prince to 10 points on 30% shooting. All around an excellent game for number 34.
While the Big Three all made key contributions in the game, the single most impressive thing about the win was withstanding a withering Detroit run that had them up by 8 going into the fourth and up by ten a couple of minutes into the final frame. At 3:36 in the third I wrote “the wheels are coming off” in my notes, you could feel the game slipping away and the C’s were only down by 3. Then, at the 1:30 mark, Bennett Salvatore made the single most ridiculous foul call in the history of officiating (hyperbole I grant you but I’m still absolutely astonished by it). Pierce had a wide open look at a three with a defender running at him. He faked the shot to get the defender in the air, then pulled back to let the defender crash into him, then knocked down the three. Boston fans immediately rejoiced at what appeared to be an opportunity for a 4 point play, but Salvatore inexplicably called an offensive foul on Pierce, waving off the basket. That play is a staple of crafty NBA veterans; we’ve all seen it a million times by the likes of Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Chauncey Billups, and a thousand other players. I’ve never once in my life seen it called an offensive foul.
Anyway, that horrible call helped conspire to put the C’s down big early in the fourth. Doc Rivers, not particularly lauded for his game management acumen, made the key decision to sit Ray Allen in favor of James Posey. Doc also realized (12 minutes too late, but still) that Sam Cassell was bringing nothing to the table, and put Rajon Rondo back in. Boston then went on a monumental run featuring stifling defense and KG and Pierce leading the way on offense. They tied the game at 74 with 5:24 left and then took command for good. Pierce scored 5 straight points and KG added a jumper to put the C’s up by four, 81-76. The C’s iced it down the stretch with free throws (although KG missed 2-2 with :36 left and the C’s up by six; a seven point lead would’ve been better Big Ticket).
In battling back from a 10 point fourth quarter deficit on the road in a close out game, the C’s showed the heart and toughness of a team ready to compete for a championship, and Doc Rivers showed the coaching chops occasionally lacking from his repertoire. The C’s now get some much needed rest, as the Finals start on Thursday in Boston.
Other random observations:
What was more egregious last night, Flips Saunders tie or his mullet? As the game was about to start, my buddy Joe thought a big game from Ray Allen would be a key factor, while my buddy Ed thought containing Detroit’s role players, like Antonio McDyess, would be critical. Meanwhile I was wondering why NBA teams continue to play “The Final Countdown” by Europe. Wasn’t that a crappy song when it came out, umm, 17 years ago?? By a fringe, much maligned hair band no less? There must be better choices, no? Antonio McDyess looks older than his 33 years, he’s got some Otis Nixon in him. When Doc put Cassell in at the end of the first, I immediately try to find Saunders and Lindsey Hunter salivating on the Detroit bench. Sure enough when Sam starts the 2nd Quarter, Lindsey is out there too, hounding Sam into submission. I haven’t seen this level of “whose your daddy” humiliation sense Kenyon Martin made Antoine Walker his b*tch in the 2001 Eastern Conference finals. Richard Hamilton is the American Manu Ginobili. The new anti-flopping rule should be called the ManuRip Doctrine. I’m going to throw up if we’re forced to listen to several days of sports media talking heads trying to figure out if Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan. Uggh. Yes, he is, just like when Dirk Nowitzki was the best white player ever a few years ago. I saw Leon Powe at the grocery store in Waltham earlier this week. He look confused. When was the last time you think KG was in a supermarket? 1994? I don’t like seeing Dave Cowens on Detroit’s bench. Doesn’t feel right. Our buddy Ed was in the can in the 4th when the C’s started their comeback. He tried to come back into the room but we banished him until the C’s tied it up. Karma, baby.