3.19.2018

Seems Like Old Times

3/5/2008

Seems Like Old Times

Back then, the Celtics had more notable rivalries. But nobody seemed to stoke the Celts' ire quite like the Detroit Pistons.



``I never put it up there with the ones we had with Philly and the Lakers. (The Pistons) were up-and-coming and we were at the end,'' C's legend Larry Bird said yesterday. ``I've always had respect for 'em as players but Detroit took more shots at you than those other teams.''

So here we are, roughly 20 years later, and the Celtics and Pistons once again are vying for superiority in the NBA's Eastern Conference.

The names have changed, but the story remains the same. The Celtics and Detroit play their final meeting of the 2007-08 regular season tonight at TD Banknorth Garden. At the moment, the season series is tied at 1, and there is the very real possibility that the clubs will meet again this spring for the right to go to the NBA Finals.

Currently, Bird is president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, Isiah Thomas is head coach and president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks, John Salley a host for ``The Best Damn Sports Show Period.''

Everyone has moved on. But to this day, few with any connection to those Celtics teams have been able to forgive Bill Laimbeer.

Detroit took more shots at you than those other teams.

What, you think Bird was talking about Joe Dumars?

On the one hand, Bird is right: Relative to the Pistons, the Celtics of the 1980s had greater adversaries.

On the other hand, there is no disputing the amount of vitriol that existed between the Celtics and Pistons as they fought for command of the East at a time when Detroit was a collection of snotty (and foulmouthed) college graduates trying to push the old men out the door. From Detroit's perspective, after all, Bird's historic steal of Thomas' sloppy inbounds pass in the final seconds of Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals was the beginning, not the end.

The upstart Pistons subsequently knocked off the Celtics in six games in the 1988 Conference finals before wiping out the C's in three games during the first round in 1989.

And during the seven-year period from 1984-90, either the Celtics or the Pistons represented the East in the NBA Finals.

Now the teams are at it again, except the roles have changed.

Though the revamped Celtics hardly qualify as young behind the trio of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, they certainly are the newer of the two contenders.

For the Celtics, the road to the NBA Finals almost certainly goes through Detroit, particularly during a season in which the Pistons appear to have regained some of the swagger from their most recent championship season, 2004.

Now, Detroit is the battle-tested, more seasoned club.

Which is precisely why the Celtics were so eager to bring in Sam Cassell.

``Obviously, they're two of the top teams in the East,'' Bird acknowledged of the Celtics and Pistons. ``Either one of 'em has a good shot of winning the championship, along with all of those teams in the West.''

From that standpoint, tonight's game will mean nothing, though there is the issue of homecourt advantage should the teams meet in the postseason. (The Celtics held a 3 1/2-game lead heading into last night.)

Each club already has won on the other's home floor this season, with the Pistons handing the Celts their first home loss of the Kevin Garnett era back in December.

In that game, tough-as-nails Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups exploited the Celtics deficiencies in the backcourt by posting up Rajon Rondo, who was operating without a true backup.

While Cassell is not expected to play tonight, the addition of the veteran point guard appears to address the Celtics' greatest weakness against the team that seems to be their greatest obstacle in returning to the Finals.

These days, that is something even the Celtics of old cannot dispute. - tmassarotti@bostonherald.com

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