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Celtics Legends Series: Celtics-Pistons rivalry

Posted by shawn cassidy on July 23, 2011 at 3:00 PM

This became a power struggle in the late 80's. The Celtics before the 87 season just captured their third title of the decade,and the franchises 16th overall. The Pistons waiting in the shadows had the second best point guard in the league who wanted to be the best. Thomas carried the Pistons for years,and finally the Pistons got a player to go along with Isiah,and his bad boys. Joe Dumars could guard anyone,and he was a good scorer to go with Thomas.

The rivalry peaked in the late 1980s, featuring players such as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Isiah Thomas, and Joe Dumars. These teams met in the NBA Playoffs five times in seven seasons from 1985–1991, with the Celtics winning in 1985 and 1987, and the Pistons coming out on top en route to back-to-back Finals appearances in 1988 and their championship season of 1989 and 1991.

The 80's had three teams that gave the NBA it's character. The Celtics the leagues greatest dynasty. The Lakers,and their showtime offense,and the Pistons with their bad boy defense,and persona.

The Celtics had established themselves as the best team in the Eastern Conference for the earlier part of the decade, with 5 Eastern Conference titles from 1981–1987. But with the emergence of the younger Pistons came the first real threat to the Celtic dynasty. The "Bad Boys", as the Pistons became known, used physical and often dirty playing tactics to intimidate their opponents and bully their way to victory. This roused the ire of Boston's players and fans, and the teams' mutual hatred of each other often led to on-court fighting. Detroit's biggest antagonists were Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman. In game 3 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, Bird and Laimbeer were both ejected for fighting as the Pistons went on to rout the Celtics 122–104.

Perhaps the most famous moment of the Pistons-Celtics rivalry occurred during Game 5. Leading by one point with just a few seconds remaining, and threatening to take a commanding 3–2 lead in the series, the Pistons' Isiah Thomas had his inbounds pass intercepted by Larry Bird, who quickly dished to Dennis Johnson for the winning layup. With Robert Parish forced to sit out game 6 due to a suspension for punching Bill Laimbeer in the second quarter of game 5 (the first suspension for a playoff game in NBA history; he also re-sprained his right ankle late in Game 5), the Pistons won game 6 to send the series back to Boston for a 7th game. The Celtics ended the bitter series with a 117–114 home win over the Pistons in Game 7. The Celtics would go down in the finals. Injuries were too much to overcome for the green team.

Thomas would get his revenge against Bird in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons finally unseated the Celtics, winning the series 4–2 and advancing to the NBA Finals to face the Los Angeles Lakers. What was notable in the Eastern series was the fact that the Pistons, who entered the series with 21 straight losses at the Boston Garden, defeated the Celtics by winning two of three games at the Garden (Game 1 and Game 5). In Game 5, the Celtics even led by as many as 16 points before the Pistons rallied to win 102–96. In addition, their rough style of play and intense defense shut down Bird's scoring dramatically, holding him to just 10.0 points per game on 35.1% shooting, thus forcing the Celtics to rely on McHale.

Without a doubt one of the hardest years to watch as a Celtics fan with Bird out for most of the season.In the 1989 playoffs, the two teams meet again only this time the Pistons were the top seed while the Bird-less Celtics were the 8th-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. As expected, the Pistons swept the Celtics, 3 games to 0. The series wasn't even close. The Pistons loved beathing on the older,and Birdless Celtics. They smelled blood,and the Pistons took full advantage.

The Celtics and the Pistons would meet each other one last time in 1991. Similar to the 1988 series, the Celtics had the home court advantage but lost to the Pistons in six games. By this time however, Bird's health had deteriorated, Thomas was injured and both teams had a new set of players. This series was like a grude match. The teams had key injuries,but in the end the Pistons got the series by playing solid defense.The Pistons won the last two games,and the games had a nast feel to them. The games a little high scoring for the Pistons taste,but they pulled off the wins.

In the 2000's the Celtics,and Pistons would go head to head twice. In the 2002 series the Celtics have finally risen from the depths of hell. The Celtics returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1995. The Pistons had a solid club coached by former Celtic Rick Carlise. It was nothing like the 80's,but the series had its moments. In game three it was one of the lowest scoring games in league histroy. The Celtics won 66-64.The Pistons would win the first game in the series,and they already had the home court advantage after winning the Central division. The Celtics would win four in a row to take the series. The Celtics would return to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since they played the Pistons in 1988. The Celtics lost to the Nets in 6.

After the acquisition of Kevin Garnett, the Celtics renewed their rivalry with the Pistons. Their first matchup on December 19 saw the clash of the new look Celtics and Pistons, which resulted in a 87–85 Detroit win after Chauncey Billups hit two key free throws. However, Boston still won the season series 2–1. The two longtime rivals clashed in another Eastern Conference Finals, which was their first meeting in an Eastern Conference final round since 1988. The Celtics had to play 7 games each round while Detroit played 6 in the first and cruised by with 5 games in the second.The match-up that everyone wanted to see in the East. The Celtcs,and Pistons in the East finals. The teams had respect for one another. Both teams had the best defensive systems in the NBA. It's also fair to say that the two best teams in the NBA played in the East in 2008. The Pistons would handle the Celtics their first and only home loss in the playoffs. The Celtics would fire back in game 3,and that would be the Celtics first road win in the 2008 playoffs. The Celtics would lose game 4 pretty bad,and the Celtics would take a huge lead in game 5,but the Pistons made it the most dramatic game in the series. Ray Allen had struggled all series,but he broke his slump,and he also hit a game wiinner. In game 6 the Pistons took a ten point lead into the 4th. The Celtics would see the chance to clinch the conference title on the road. The Celtics would come back,and they used their smarts,and tougness that got them to this point in the season. The Celtics would move on play their biggest rival the Lakers. The Celtics would win their first title in 22 years,and their 17th banner.

The rivalry only lasted a season,but it was fun to watch. Rasheed Wallace would become a Celtic in 2009,and the Pistons offically started to rebuild.

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