It’s always nice to have the luxury of three all-stars in your starting line up but its even nicer when those all-stars combine to score 78 points in the biggest game of the year to date. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have individually had their struggles in the 2008 playoffs but Wednesday night they put the past behind them. The ‘Big Three’ put forth one of their most impressive outings as a trio during the Boston Celtics 106-102 victory over the Detroit Pistons. The Celtics now hold a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals with Game 6 on the horizon in Detroit on Friday night.
“We knew the significance of this game,” said Garnett, who dropped 33 in the win, the most he’s scored in the playoffs this year. “You don’t win this game, you put basically yourself in a corner. … They’re experienced, and they’ve been in a lot of pressure situations. Now it’s up to us to go up there and try to get one.”
Ahead by as many as 17 points in the 2nd half, the Celtics looked like they would coast to victory but the stingy Pistons defense began to slowly whittle away the lead, capitalizing on turnovers and missed free throws. Leading the charge was veteran point guard Chauncey Billups who scored 26 points in the game on a 7 for 17 shooting performance in the loss.
“The good thing about it is we’re going home,” said Billups, who took the ball to the basket twice in the final 10 seconds trying to draw a foul that was never called. “We’ve been here before, and we don’t like being in this position, but we’ve fought hard.”
The shot of the night came from Allen who nailed a bucket from the deep corner of the floor right in front of the Pistons bench with less then 2 seconds remaining on the shot clock and only 1:02 left on the game clock. The basket pulled the Celtics ahead 102-99 and sent the TD Banknorth Garden crowd to their feet in jubilation. On the night Allen scored 29 points and was 5-6 from 3-point land.
“My feeling right now is no different than if I scored 10 points and we won the game. It’s a great feeling,” Allen said. “Just winning gives me the greatest joy, regardless of what I’ve done.”
Rounding out the ‘Big Three’, Pierce chipped in scoring 16 points but contributed in a big way by playing great defense on Tayshaun Prince, holding the wingman to only 8 points on the night.
Aside for the trio of all-stars, the rest of Boston’s starting 5 also played outstanding basketball. Starting PG Rajon Rondo dished out 13 assists while scoring 7 points in the win. Kendrick Perkins notched a double-double in the first half alone, actually out rebounding the entire Pistons team at the break 13 to 11. He finished the game with 18 points and 16 boards and understands the importance of winning right now.
“I know our Big Three veteran guys. I know this opportunity doesn’t come much,” Perkins said. “I knew if I was up in age, up in my 30s, and a young fellow was there I’d want him to go all-out for me, too.”
The only Celtics points not scored by a starter came from James Posey’s 3-point field goal with 9:54 left in the 4th quarter making the score at the time 89-78.
The Celtics find themselves now only one win away from returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since the 1987 season. Rondo and reserve Glen Davis were 1 year old when that last happened.
One thing is certain, if the ‘Big Three’ continue to play the way they did in Game 5, the Celtics quest for Green 17 could very well become a reality, but first they have to find a way to win one more time against Detroit before sending the team back to the NBA Finals for the first time since the original Big Three were in town.
With the Lakers up 3-1 over the Spurs, the possibility of a Celtics vs Lakers Finals is growing more likely.