By Matt Hafele
One of the defining moments this season for me came in December. It was actually the Celtics' first home loss after starting out this season 12-0 at the Garden. Regardless of the outcome I don’t think I’ll ever forget Mike Gorman screaming “We’re tied at 85!” The Celtics were in their first playoff-type-atmosphere all season, against the team that had reached the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the last five years. It was a dog fight from start to finish with the Pistons gaining leads and the Celtics erasing them.
Ray-ray was jacked-up after Gorman’s call as well. (Jim Davis / Globe Staff Photo)
The Pistons took an 85-79 lead with under four minutes to play and that’s when the heart of this team really showed. Eddie House went first with his three-pointer to get the Celts within three, and then Ray showed off some of his clutch shooting tying the game at 85 – and leading to Gorman’s aforementioned exclamation – on another 3-pointer 19 seconds to go. I, like many other Celtics fans, was going absolutely insane from my couch.
I was so used to the Celtics of old that once they got down six with little time left, I figured it was over. It took some lock-down defense and clutch shooting to make me a believer. Unfortunately, we all know what happened after that. Doc sent in Tony Allen (who had only played five minutes throughout the game) to guard the former Celtic and clutch-shooter, Chauncey Billups, with less than two seconds remaining. A little pump-fake and Tony went airborne – ballgame.
Still, there was a sense of satisfaction that came with this loss. We could hang with the Pistons. We made it clear who the top two teams in the East were that night.
The Celtics got their second shot against Detroit a couple weeks later at The Palace in Auburn Hills. The Celtics not only won the game, but at the same time they put an end to the Pistons' gaudy 11-game winning streak. As Mr. Ian Rider (respect the vets) discussed in a post after the game, Big Baby became a man that night. He scored what seemed like the last four or five buckets (thanks to some beautiful assists from Paul Pierce) to seal the deal for Boston’s big road victory.
Here we are two months later, and those two games against the Pistons still seem so fresh. The win in Detroit was the biggest of the season for the Celtics to date, and this time it will be the Pistons’ coming to town looking for revenge. They can play it off and act like this Wednesday night's game doesn’t mean a thing because it’s the regular season, but the truth is it does mean something. If Boston is able to win, they pave a nice road during the last month-and-a-half of the season to grab that coveted home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. That would be huge if these two teams end up meeting again in the playoffs.
Eastern Conference Finals Preview?
There is no doubt the Garden is going to be rocking Wednesday night. The two previous meetings this season went down to the wire and my guess is this one will too. Both teams will come out fired-up; it’s going to be who can remain that way down the stretch that will determine the outcome. Even if Sam Cassell plays, the Celtics should be a much better team by the time the playoffs start. This group of Celtics has only been together this season while the core group in Detroit has been a stable for countless years. Sure, they have the playoff experience and know what it takes to go all the way, but the Celtics are getting better with each game…and they’re getting a little taste of the playoffs this week, just like they did back in December.
Finally, Ian said it best back on January 5th.