There’s No Place Like Home For Boston

By Stephen Alford
Updated: May 19, 2008

BOSTON — The Detroit Pistons will put the Boston Celtics unbeaten at home playoff streak to the test Tuesday as the two teams meet in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Paul Pierce and the rest of the Celtics have had only one day to bask in the glory of their Game Seven 97-92 instant classic victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now, it’s back to work.

If the Green expect to move past the Pistons and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987, they may have to play with the same intensity that was displayed in the Game Sevens of their last two rounds.

Celtics Nation is hopeful that Paul Pierce can repeat the performance he had on Sunday, the most impactful of his10 year career. The Truth connected on 13-of-23 shots from the field, including 4-for-6 from beyond the arc, en route to 41 points.

Known to miss a few crucial free throws here and there, Pierce also converted 11 of his 12 attempts from the charity stripe, including the dramatic front end of two free throws that bounced high off the back of the rim before finding its way through the net to give Boston a comfortable four-point cushion with 7.9 seconds to play in regulation.

As the 18,624 live witnesses collectively let out a sigh of relief that quickly turned into a loud roar, Pierce could be seen with a wide smile on his face. When asked what was going through his mind at that time, the Truth told, “I think the ghost of Red (Auerbach) just looking over us.”

“You know I wish he was here today to be here with us, but I just think that’s him looking over us that guided that ball in. I think he kind of tapped it in the right direction and it went through the net and it sort of put a smile on my face. Just the way the night was going.”

A costly turnover, another thing Pierce does on occasion, that led to a LeBron James, King-sized dunk that brought Cleveland to within one point (89-88) with 2:20 left in the game, fortunately did not rattle the Celtics, as PJ Brown, the most unlikely hero on the court at the time, stepped up and nailed a 20-foot shot to regain Boston’s momentum with 1:21 left.

“His mental toughness was fantastic,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers after the game. “Obviously he was great offensively but I was just happy Paul had two turnovers.”

“When you have those turnovers down the stretch, you can easily go the other way and start over passing and getting tentative, but I think he even got better after that and so I was really happy for him. He deserves this and it’s really great for him.”

Many people immediately compared Sunday’s battle with the 1986 Game Seven Eastern Conference semifinals that Larry Bird had with Dominique Wilkins and the Atlanta Hawks.

Wilkins finished with 47 points when the Hawks lost to Larry Legend (34 points, 20 in the final frame) 118-116 almost 20 years ago to the date. James ended Sunday’s game with 45 points (14-for-29 from the field, 3-for-11 from beyond the arc, 14-for-19 from the line).

“Paul Pierce is one of my favorite players,” said LeBron James after the loss. “As a fan, when I watch Paul Pierce, I love the way he plays the game of basketball. I always say, second to Kobe Bryant, he has some of the best footwork I’ve ever seen in a player.”

“I love going against the best, and Paul Pierce is one of those guys. We both are trying to will our team to victory, and just like Dominique Wilkins, I ended up on the short end. The Celtics won again.”

“Tonight was very simple, get the ball to Paul Pierce, get the hell out the way,” joked Kevin Garnett after the game. “That’s exactly what it was, no need for you all to ask me no questions, that was the game plan, that is what we did.”

The Celtics are going to need that same good fortune tonight against Detroit. The Cs are also going to need another player to step in, make some plays, and get the crowd going.

Eddie House may be that player.

House certainly has proved he deserves minutes on the court. Despite finishing the Game 7 shooting 1-for-5 from the field, the Celtics reserve made some hustle plays that kept the crowd into the game.

The Cs will need that player who will realize that every possession is important, as when House ran the length of the court at full speed and beat former-Celtic Wally Szczerbiak to the ball, then dove to the floor and tapped the ball to James Posey.

Posey would get fouled on the play and sink two free throws, giving Boston an 11-point advantage (34-23) with 6:31 remaining in the first half.

A little over a minute later, House got into a tussle with another former-Celtic Delonte West (15 points, only other Cavalier in double figures) while going for a loose ball.

The tussle may have been minor, but it was enough to get the crowd to back the reserve with chants of “Eddie, Eddie”, as Boston closed the half with a 10-point advantage (50-40).

The Pistons have had plenty of time to relax, as they have been off since last Tuesday when they eliminated the Orlando Magic in five games. That can mean two things: Detroit may come out rusty, or after having had such a long time to rest, they may come out with a lot of energy.

Being the veteran team that they are, I expect the latter of the two.

Boston will have to shake the fatigue factor and match the energy that Detroit will bring to the Garden.

Ray Allen, who shot 33% from the field (20-for-61) and 17% from beyond the arc (4-for-24) during the series against Cleveland, needs to start putting the ball in the basket much more frequently, and will need to take advantage of the slender Rip Hamilton, who will most likely draw the assignment of guarding his fellow UConn alum, as Tayshaun Prince will be the one guarding Pierce’s hot hand.

The Celtics will also have to try to figure out a way to stop the volatile, yet versatile Rasheed Wallace.Defensive Player of the Year, Kevin Garnett, will not only have to defend Wallace in the trenches, but he will also have the unenviable task of following him beyond the arc, which will have an effect on his rebound production.

That means Kendrick Perkins will need to stay out of foul trouble and concentrate on collecting the caroms.

“We know who they are too. They are a terrific team,” said Coach Rivers when asked about the Pistons. “Before the year people thought it’d be us and Detroit in the Eastern Finals, and we believed that too.”

“We just wanted it to start at home in Boston. They are a great team. Flip (Saunders) is a great coach. They’ve been together longer. They’ve been through all the wars longer. Having gone through these two, has to have helped us a little bit too.”

“It will be a good series.”