by Hayden Alfano
For the first two rounds of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs, talking heads and fans of other teams have derided the Boston Celtics for their inability to win a road game. Celtics supporters have had one response: “Uh, actually, we don’t need to.” And until now, they’ve been right. For while the Celticss have tied an NBA record for most consecutive road playoff losses by dropping their first six away contests, their outstanding regular season — a 66-16 record that was the best in the league — gave them the right to play four games of each best-of-seven series at home, in the friendly confines of the TD Banknorth Boston Garden. The Celtics had been automatic in that building, winning nine straight at home to start the playoffs. If they could win every game at home, they’d earn the franchise’s 17th championship banner.
The landscape changed considerably Thursday night (May 22), as the Detroit Pistons pulled out a 103-97 victory in Boston, knotting the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece and wresting away the home court advantage. Now, in order to advance to the NBA Finals, Boston will have to win a game in Detroit.
It won’t be easy. The Pistons are playing in their sixth consecutive Eastern Conference finals. And while those seasons have resulted in just one NBA title, in 2004 — leading even their supporters to characterize them as the Atlanta Braves of basketball — that experience has instilled in them a poise that makes them very tough to beat.
That unflappability was on display all throughout Game 2, as Detroit played with a recognition of the urgency of their situation without letting it negatively affect them. Indeed, the Pistons were at their best when it seemed most likely that they would fold: After Boston came out of the locker room on fire, turning a seven-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead, Detroit ripped off a 12-2 run, eventually extending the lead to nine points.
The Pistons’ poise seems to have percolated down to even their least-seasoned players. While several Detroit starters sat to start the fourth quarter, gaining valuable rest for the stretch run, rookie Rodney Stuckey put the team on his shoulders. Over a stretch that spanned the final minute of the third quarter and the first four minutes of the fourth, Stuckey scored ten of his team’s 15 points, capping an evening in which he scored 13 points in 17 minutes.
That kind of clutch performance is common for such experienced Pistons as Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncy Billups, and Tayshaun Prince. It wasn’t expected of Stuckey, who played his college ball in relative obscurity at Eastern Washington.
The way the Pistons play makes them beatable; they rely heavily on jump shots, and perimeter shooting can come and go on a whim. Boston won in Detroit during the regular season, and shooting guard Ray Allen broke out of his well-documented slump with 25 points Thursday night.
But Detroit has succeeded in this spot in this past year, and Boston — despite a core of veteran All-Stars in Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett — hasn’t even been here before. ESPN’s broadcast team spoke at length on Thursday about how the Pistons don’t get rattled. While Boston has answered those questions at home in this playoff season, they haven’t proven it on the road. Now facing a must-win scenario in one of the three remaining games in Detroit, they have the chance to show chops of their own.
Television Viewing Guide
Tonight, Friday, May 23, the San Antonio Spurs play the Los Angeles Lakers on TNT at 9 p.m. EDT. The Spurs will be looking to make up for the golden opportunity they missed after blowing a 20-point third-quarter lead in Game 1. The Eastern and Western Conferences are each playing every other night, so the Pistons and Celtics will resume their series Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. EDT on ABC.
(To see the top five plays from Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals as selected by the NBA, please check below.)
Richard “Rip” Hamilton
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by Hayden Alfano