|Kendrick Perkins (18 points, 16 rebounds) was pumped up - with a hand from P.J. Brown - in Game 5. (Barry chin/globe staff)|
It's 3-2, Celtics, heading back to Auburn Hills.
What do we know that we didn't know 10 days ago?
Seriously. In the Big Scheme of things, should we really be surprised at anything we've seen?
"Probably the biggest difference is I think neither team probably expected to have back-to-back - both home teams lose in back-to-back situations," surmised Detroit coach Flip Saunders prior to Wednesday's exhilarating Game 5, a 106-102 Celtics' victory. "But you have teams, and I said this from the beginning, when you have teams that are very similar, and by that I mean they have the same strengths . . .
"[Rip] Hamilton, [Ray] Allen, both scoring-type guards. The [Kevin] Garnett matchup with Rasheed Wallace. You have one of the better forwards in Tayshaun Prince vs. one of the better offensive players in the league in Paul Pierce. We thought what would be big for us would be Chauncey [Billups] at that [point guard] position."
That said, the teams went out and played a superb game that made the NBA proud. This was real NBA basketball. The game had pace and flow. It had great shot-making. It had transitions and fierce board encounters. It had runs by both teams. It had superb individual performances (Garnett, Allen, Kendrick Perkins, Hamilton, Wallace). It ended with the Pistons staging a gallant fourth-quarter comeback from a 15-point deficit that fell a wee bit short, sending them home for Game 6 assuming, not hoping, there would be another Game 7 at TD Banknorth Garden Sunday evening.
OK, but surely there must be something new, something different, something we didn't expect. Fine. How about the play of Antonio McDyess and Perkins?
McDyess is a 33-year-old forward, the second pick in the entire draft in 1995, a former 20-10 guy who has been a quietly efficient contributor to the Detroit cause since joining the team for the 2004-05 season. The other four starters have a ring earned the year before he became a Piston. He feels left out.
But the Celtics elected to ignore him in Games 1 through 4, and he made them pay. Without warning, he was putting up McDyess numbers from 10 years ago: 14-11, 15-8, 8-8, and then, in Game 4, an eye-catching 21-16. All this from a man who had but two double-figure games in the entire month of March.
Something had to be done, and something was. McDyess fouled out of Game 5 with 4 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 turnovers.
OK, what was up, Doc?
"The one thing we wanted to do was attack him at the other end," Celtics coach Doc Rivers explained. "He's been fresh. He's been fresh to rebound. He's made shots, and so we wanted to really attack him on the other end and make him defend a little bit, which, we felt, hopefully, would get him in foul trouble. The second thing was to make him make shots off the dribble: no catch and shoot."
McDyess's horrid Game 5 numbers spoke for themselves. We await the inevitable Detroit adjustment.
If the Celtics didn't expect to be game-planning with McDyess in mind, what about the Pistons? It's rather doubtful Saunders and his staff were saying to their players on the eve of Game 1, "If we don't get a handle on Kendrick Perkins, we aren't going to win this series."
In normal times, the 23-year-old center is the fifth Boston option and the fifth person on the minds of opposing teams. He's been around long enough for people to know he can rebound a little, block shots, and dunk it when you throw it to him 2 feet from the basket. You might have even developed a little respect for his jump hook.
But he has become more and more of a factor in this series. He had 12 points (on 6-for-7 shooting), 8 rebounds, and 1 block in a victorious Game 3. He was subtly effective with 10 points and six rebounds in Game 4. Yes, but none of this prepared anyone, on either side, for the way he played in Game 5. Apparently channeling Wilt, or at least Dwight Howard, Perkins had a double-double well established at halftime en route to an 18-point, 16-rebound, 2-block game that only hints at the scope of his presence.
For Perkins has worked hard to make himself into a major defensive presence. He combined his great strength and high-quality elevation with a sophisticated understanding of assistant coach Tom Thibodeau's complex defensive schemes, in which he is often asked to cover a great deal of ground. You can make a case that no one works harder in a Celtic uniform than Perkins, who carries out assignments far away from the basket, then savagely attacks the basket to grab the defensive rebound.
"He was sensational," lauded Rivers after Wednesday's game. "[He] played with great energy. That's three games in a row Kendrick Perkins has been absolutely sensational. No one saw it in the last game, because we lost it, but he was fantastic in that game, as well."
So, yes, there have been a couple of nice individual developments in this series.
Otherwise, what else did anyone expect?
We expected great things from Garnett. We expected Ray Allen to, as Cher said to Nicolas Cage in "Moonstruck," "Snap out of it!" We expected Wallace to make plays and snarl at the refs. We expected the absolutely amazing Hamilton to run around and run around and run around and make 6-foot shots, 10-foot shots, 17-foot shots, and even 24-foot shots. We expected Rajon Rondo to have good games and not-so-good games. We expected both teams to win on the road, although, as Saunders said, maybe not back to back.
The Celtics had the home-court advantage, so they should be up, 3-2. And now? Do they have any chance of closing this thing out?
"We just have to go in there and play our game," said Rivers. "That's the whole key. Whatever happens, happens."
Ten days into it, what do we know? We know it's still going. And we love it.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.