Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/NBAE
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- An oversized black duffel bag sat on the floor alongside a cinder block wall outside the Boston Celtics' locker room, and inside were stuffed dozens upon dozens of Eastern Conference champions T-shirts and hats.
Hand after hand kept reaching in and pulling out one or two of the goodies, and the players in the locker room put them on and wore them proudly.
Proudly, because the Celtics' trip to the NBA Finals was earned Friday night the way finals berths are supposed to be earned. No one handed the Celtics this game. They reached out and grabbed it -- just like they did with that bag full of apparel.
L.A. Lakers 4, San Antonio 1
Lakers advance to NBA Finals
Boston 4, Detroit 2
Celtics advance to NBA Finals
This was a game in which the Celtics trailed 70-60 early the fourth quarter before exerting their will over the entire final 12 minutes to win going away 89-81, setting up an NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers that will rekindle -- and maybe even be a rebirth of -- the NBA's glory days of two decades ago.
"It means everything to Boston fans," said Paul Pierce, who led the Celtics with 27 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. "To me, I think that's pretty much what got me started in basketball, growing up in Los Angeles, watching the Lakers and Celtics. And it's ironic, being a Celtic, now you're playing against the Lakers in the Finals. As a kid, I hated the Celtics. I'm going back home to play against my team that I grew up watching. It's a dream come true, man, just thinking about it. I think that rivalry really revolutionized the game of basketball, and now I'm a part of it."
The Finals will begin Thursday night in Boston, where the Celtics have gone 10-1 in the postseason and where Game 7 would have been held Sunday had the Pistons been able to get the job done down the stretch. Instead, Detroit shot 6-for-18 in the final quarter with six turnovers, getting outscored 29-13 in the period.
It was a night when the Celtics could have given up mentally after a highly questionable offensive foul call with 1:35 left in the third quarter. Referee Bennett Salvatore called Pierce for a charge as he drew contact from Richard Hamilton behind the 3-point line, while making the shot. Then on the next Detroit possession, Pierce fouled Tayshaun Prince, who made two free throws to give Detroit a 66-58 lead. These two huge plays added up to a six-point swing for the Pistons.
"I didn't let it frustrate me like I probably would in the past. I probably would have lost my poise, lost my cool, got a technical. But that would have been selfish of me," Pierce said.
Instead, he refocused. And when the Celtics used a 10-0 run to tie the game at 70 with 7:35 left in the game, the momentum was theirs.
Pierce gave Boston the lead for good on a three-point play with 5:25 remaining, and the Pistons' last chance ended when James Posey -- who coach Doc Rivers had used for the entire fourth quarter up to that point, benching Ray Allen -- snuck up on Prince in the backcourt and knocked the ball away with 1:40 left. Instead of having a chance to cut into a five-point deficit, the Celtics were able to stretch the lead to seven as Pierce knocked down two free throws.
Not even a minute later, half of the crowd at The Palace had already left their seats, and the Pistons' sixth consecutive trip to the conference finals ended the same way for the fourth time -- including the last three.
"Right now it's a good feeling," Kevin Garnett said from the interview podium, sitting alongside Pierce, as usual, but this time wearing one of those T-shirt and hat ensembles. "It's kind of surreal, probably hasn't even hit me yet because we haven't slept in about four days, going on five days now. But it does feel good."
"It's been a long process," Pierce added. "I could probably write a book on my emotions right now. But I'm just happy to be in this position, still with the Boston Celtics."
This will be the 11th time the Lakers and Celtics will have met for the championship, the first since 1987, when Pat Riley's Showtime Lakers finished off the defending champion Celtics in six games.
For anyone younger than 28, it'll be at least somewhat of a new experience.
For those north of 28, it'll be a mix of nostalgia and newness.
Count Garnett in the latter group.
"I'm looking forward to it, all the things I used to watch on Sundays with that big plate of food in front of me, watching the Lakers and Celtics play on Sunday, Hubie Brown and Dick Stockton doing the game. I remember that like it was yesterday -- fire going, I'm going to grab that seat right in front, Mom telling me, 'Don't get too close to the TV, it'll kill your eyes.' I remember it like it was yesterday, man. I'm looking forward to this," he said.
Him, and a lot of other people, too -- not least among them commissioner David Stern, who in a moment of candor earlier this season said he was hoping, deep down in his heart, for another Lakers-Celtics Finals. He's got it: the team that had the best record in the East facing the team that had the best record in the West.
"I think the right two teams are playing each other," Rivers said.
Outside of Detroit and San Antonio, plenty of folks feel that same way, too.
So grab a big plate of food, don't sit too close to the TV and don't take for granted that everyone's allegiances are the same as they were 20-25 years ago. Just ask Pierce, who was wearing a Magic Johnson jersey back then, but was sporting green and white on this night, a night when the Celtics earned -- really, truly earned -- the right to go for the ultimate NBA prize, just like Magic and Larry Bird did back when these players were mere pups.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Paul Pierce bled Los Angeles Lakers purple and gold as a kid. The Inglewood, Calif., native lived just minutes from the Forum, the Lakers' old home. The Boston Celtics? Ah man, Pierce hated the Celtics with a passion.
But that was then. And now the only thing standing between Pierce and his first NBA title is his beloved Lakers.
"It means everything to Boston fans," Pierce said. "To me, I think that's what pretty much got me started in basketball, growing up in Los Angeles, watching the Lakers and the Celtics, and it's ironic, just being a Celtic, growing up, now you're playing against the Lakers in the Finals.
"As a kid, I hated the Celtics," Pierce added, laughing. "I'm going back home to play against my team that I grew up watching."
The Celtics-Lakers rivalry is between the two most storied franchises in NBA history and arguably the best in all of sports (although Red Sox and Yankees fans would strongly disagree). The Celtics have 16 championships. The Lakers have 14.
The Celtics-Lakers rivalry has died down dramatically since the retirement of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the early 1990s, but of all people, the kid from Inglewood breathed life back into it.
Pierce scored 12 of his team-high 27 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Celtics to an 89-81 Game 6 series-clinching victory in the Eastern Conference finals. After the game, the kid from Inglewood led the chant of, "Beat L.A., Beat L.A." with his Boston teammates. While Pierce will always be the kid from Inglewood, times have changed. He now bleeds green.
"It's a dream come true, man, just thinking about it," he said. "I think that rivalry really revolutionized the game of basketball, and now I'm a part of it."
Marc J. Spears is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and covers the Boston Celtics and the NBA for The Boston Globe.
The Pistons have now been defeated in the conference finals in three consecutive seasons. Only one other team in NBA history was dismissed from the playoffs in the conference (or division) finals three years in a row: the Celtics, from 1953 to 1955.
• James' 48 points broke his own franchise record and he was the first player to score at least 18 points after regulation of a playoff game since Richard Jefferson, who did it in a triple-overtime game against the Pistons in 2004. Over the past 10 years, only one other player scored 20 or more straight points for his team in a playoff game: Tracy McGrady, who scored 20 straight for Orlando in a 103-96 loss to Milwaukee on April 25, 2001.
• James joined Michael Jordan (48 points, nine rebounds, eight assists in a win against the Hornets on April 28, 1995) as the only players in NBA history with 48 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in a single playoff game.
-- Peter D. Newmann | ESPN Research
Boston front office: The Celtics made two separate deals this summer to acquire Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The duo combined with Paul Pierce to help Boston win a league-best 66 games and earn its first trip to the NBA Finals since 1987. Guess it worked out.
Rasheed Wallace, Pistons forward: Whenever you finish with more fouls (five) than points (four), it's not a good thing. He went 2-for-12 from the field, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range, in a game Detroit had to have.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"This is really tough. We had it, and we didn't get over the hump."
-- Pistons guard Chauncey Billups talking about Detroit blowing a 10-point lead in the final quarter
The NBA Finals are all set. It's Kobe Bryant's Lakers against Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. Talk about a dream scenario for a basketball fan. Here is the series schedule.
|NBA FINALS - BEST OF SEVEN (2-3-2)|
|Thursday, June 5 (8:30 p.m. ET)||Lakers at Celtics|
|Sunday, June 8 (8:30 p.m.)||Lakers at Celtics|
|Tuesday, June 10 (8:30 p.m.)||Celtics at Lakers|
|Thursday, June 12 (8:30 p.m.)||Celtics at Lakers|
|#Sunday, June 15 (8:30 p.m.)||Celtics at Lakers|
|#Tuesday, June 17 (8:30 p.m.)||Lakers at Celtics|
|#Thursday, June 19 (8:30 p.m.)||Lakers at Celtics|
# if necessary
No, Kevin Garnett wasn't upset after reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in his 13-year career. The Big Ticket was crying tears of joy.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Rasheed Wallace didn't have a lot to say afterward. Three times he walked to his locker and then walked away, only once uttering anything of substance.
"This is the end, man."
The end of what, Sheed?
Only time will tell.
Pistons insiders told ESPN.com it appears to be a 50-50 proposition whether Flip Saunders will return next season to coach the fourth and final year of his contract, having come up short in the conference finals for the third consecutive year after inheriting a team that was coming off consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
Saunders now holds the record for most conference finals games coached (24) without ever making it to the Finals, and all eyes will be on team president Joe Dumars in the days ahead to see whether he and/or owner Bill Davidson feel it's time for a new voice to lead the team. If Saunders is fired, expect current Pistons assistants Terry Porter (who also is a candidate for the vacancy in Phoenix) and Michael Curry to head the list of potential successors.
Asked about his job security afterward, Saunders politely declined to say anything of substance.
"That's not a good question to answer right now. Just thinking about the loss. That's something Joe and I will sit down to evaluate," he said.
Dumars entered the past offseason lamenting the fact that his team had been defeated for a second straight season -- once against the Cavs, the other time against the Heat -- by an opponent that was simply hungrier than the Pistons. Too often, the Pistons' nonchalance and cavalier attitude had worked against them, and in their deciding final 12 minutes of this postseason, again they fell victim to an opponent that imposed its will.
All of the Pistons' starters except for Tayshaun Prince are at least 30 years old, and there's a strong possibility Dumars will break up the core of Prince, Wallace, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Antonio McDyess in an effort to rebuild around Jason Maxiell, Rodney Stuckey, Amir Johnson and Arron Afflalo.
"He probably will, because there's no excuse on why we didn't go back to the Finals this year, and I'm pretty sure he sees that," McDyess said. "He's not blind and the fans are not blind, and I can't assume what he's going to do, but it will probably be pressed on him."
So stay tuned in the days ahead to the goings on in Motown. The Pistons may be done, but Dumars may just be getting started.