Celtics eager to finish job against Pistons

Tough Boston defense puts Detroit on precipice

Pro Basketball

May 14, 2002|By THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL

WALTHAM, Mass. - At this stage of the NBA playoffs, teams can carry one of two looks on their faces.

There is a look of confidence that comes with winning, a hunger that every team strives for. The other look is one of wide-eyed frustration, panic even, that an inglorious end to a season can bring.

The Boston Celtics players say they don't see that desperate look on the faces of the Detroit Pistons yet. But it's coming.

Tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills outside Detroit, the Pistons must take the first step out of a 3-1 series hole they dug for themselves with two tough defeats over the weekend in Boston. The Celtics have never blown a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series and no one wants that streak to end now. After a half-hour practice here yesterday, several players spoke about the desire to wrap up this series right away.

"At this point, we're so much of a focused group right now that I don't think anything will stand in our way," said Celtics forward Paul Pierce. "We understand what we need to do to win ballgames and close out the series. We know they'll come out with their best punch, with their backs against the wall and all, but we're going to come out like it's our last game, too, and we're going to try to put them away."

This Boston team has little playoff experience, but it has already faced three `knockout' games. The Celtics let two slip away in a first-round series against Philadelphia before eventually closing out the 76ers in five games.

"We know we had a chance against Philly to end it earlier so we don't want to go the distance here," said guard Kenny Anderson. "That's what we're hoping for. We're just going to come out with a lot of intensity. I know everyone wants to move on and we have an opportunity to do so. We don't want to prolong it."

After allowing 96 points in a Game 1 loss, the Celtics have ridden a throttling defense to three straight wins. Over the last 13 quarters, the Pistons have scored 20 or fewer points nine times and failed to score more than 25 points in a single quarter. In the three Boston wins, the Pistons are averaging 73.3 points on 36 percent shooting.

It's that level of defense that's separated the Celtics from their opponents thus far in the postseason. Coaches Jim O'Brien and defensive guru Dick Harter stress hard work on defense over everything else, and right now the Pistons are a frustrated group. Some Detroit players are insisting they're not hitting the few open shots they see, but leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse had a more correct spin on Boston's defense.

"It's tough because I want to get isolations and just drive to the basket, but with the way they are tilting and have guys in the lanes, it forces us to make other plays," said Stackhouse.

A mini red flag arose yesterday when Antoine Walker watched the practice from the sidelines. He has a slightly sprained ankle that O'Brien dismissed as "minor."

O'Brien said he's most pleased with his team's focus and intensity "on the job at hand," and its knowledge of what the coaches want accomplished.

"The playoffs become a matter of wills and guts and having your guys peaked mentally," O'Brien said. "With our group, it's a relatively easy task because they are as hungry as they can get. They really want to win in the worst way."

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