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Celtics 106, Pistons 102

Leading men

Celtics star in a thriller, holding on to assume control against Pistons

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / May 29, 2008

As much as the Celtics love playing at TD Banknorth Garden, they hope to ensure they come nowhere near the place Sunday.

The Celtics moved one win from advancing to the NBA Finals with a 106-102 victory over the Pistons last night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Boston owns a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 6 tomorrow night in Detroit. A win at the Palace will send the Celtics to the Finals for the first time since 1987, while a loss would mean Game 7 in Boston Sunday.

"We knew the significance of this game," said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett. "You don't win this game, you basically put yourself in a corner."

Garnett scored a game- and season-high 33 points, Ray Allen seemed to end his shooting slump with 29 points and five 3-pointers, and Kendrick Perkins had 18 points and 16 rebounds. Boston shot 50.7 percent from the field, connected on 8 of 15 3-pointers, and outrebounded Detroit, 42-25.

Boston is 10-1 at the Garden this postseason, 3-0 in Game 5s. The Celtics are only 1-7 on the road in the playoffs, but that one win came in Game 3 of this series.

"We know how tough it is to win out there in Detroit," said Celtics forward Paul Pierce. "[Game 5 was] one of the biggest games that we played all year long. A crucial game at home, get the lead just to get some momentum, get the momentum back, and we knew it was going to be one of the toughest games of the series.

"We said that coming into it, that this is like a Game 7, and we responded. We knew it wasn't going to be easy."

Detroit's backcourt of Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton combined for 51 points. Hamilton, however, left the game late in the fourth quarter after sustaining a right elbow strain that required X-rays, which were negative.

The Pistons are playing in their sixth straight Eastern Conference finals and have experienced any situation imaginable in the postseason. With that in mind, they are confident they will be back here Sunday.

"We've got to do what we do," said Pistons coach Flip Saunders. "We've got to go back home and play with the same intensity we did tonight and play there, and then come back here as far as our main focus."

Said Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace, "We can do it. We've been here before; we can do it."

The Celtics owned a 52-46 halftime lead after shooting 51.3 percent from the field. Boston had three players in double figures in Garnett (15), Perkins (12 points, 13 rebounds), and Pierce (13 of his 16 points). The Celtics also outrebounded the Pistons, 28-11, in the half. Wallace had 12 of his 18 points by intermission.

The Celtics outscored the Pistons, 32-25, in the third quarter to take an 84-71 lead. Allen scored 16 points and nailed three 3-pointers in the third, while the Celtics shot 57.1 percent.

"The third quarter was big for us," Garnett said. "We came out with a lot of energy."

The Celtics' lead was sliced to 1, 100-99, when Pistons rookie Rodney Stuckey (13 points) nailed a 3-pointer with 1:23 remaining. Allen's 21-foot jumper with 1:02 left pushed Boston ahead, 102-99. Billups missed a lay-in with 42.9 seconds left. Garnett, however, missed a jumper with 16.9 seconds left.

The Celtics gambled when Rajon Rondo (7 points, 13 assists, 4 steals) purposely fouled Stuckey with 8.2 seconds left. Stuckey made both free throws to trim Detroit's deficit to 102-101. After being fouled by Lindsey Hunter, Allen connected on two free throws to give Boston a 104-101 lead.

Rondo fouled Stuckey again with 4.5 seconds left. This time, the rookie missed the first and made the second to bring Detroit within 104-102.

"That was the longest fourth quarter out of all the games we played in," Pierce said. "I was a little disappointed the way we played the fourth quarter."

Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, "We made it interesting."

Garnett was fouled by Wallace after an inbounds pass with 3.4 seconds left. He made both free throws to seal the win and bring Boston one win closer to the Finals.

"You know they're experienced, and they've been in a lot of pressure situations," Garnett said. "Now it's up to us to go up there and try to get one."

"We've just got to think about the next game," said Rivers. "We've got to have great focus and great intensity there. They've won titles, they've been in this position before. We just have to go in there and play our game. That's the whole key."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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