Celtics–Pistons rivalry

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Celtics–Pistons rivalry
Boston Celtics
Detroit Pistons
First meetingNovember 12, 1948
Celtics 84, Pistons 75
Latest meetingFebruary 15, 2023
Pistons 109, Celtics 127
Next meetingDecember 28, 2023
Meetings total435
All-time series274–161 (BOS)
Regular season series247–139 (BOS)
Postseason results24–21 (BOS)
Longest win streakBOS W17
Current win streakBOS W6
Postseason history

The Celtics–Pistons rivalry is a National Basketball Association (NBA) rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons. The two teams played each other in the NBA playoffs five times from 1985 to 1991, with Boston winning in 1985 and 1987, and Detroit winning en route to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances from 1988 to 1990. The rivalry peaked in the late 1980s, featuring players such as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Rodman, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and Bill Laimbeer.



Between 1948 and 1978, the Celtics and Pistons were on opposite divisions/conferences in all but three seasons. The Pistons found success in the early 1950s behind George Yardley, making two NBA Finals appearances, while the Celtics soon built a dynasty behind Bill Russell, winning 11 championships between 1957 and 1969.

The Pistons and Celtics first opposed each other in postseason play in 1968, with the Celtics emerging victorious in six games of the Eastern Division Semifinals. However, the Pistons were generally mediocre for a majority of the 1960s and 1970s, despite the presence of stars such as Dave DeBusschere, Dave Bing and Bob Lanier. Meanwhile, the Celtics continued to rack up championships with Russell, John Havlicek and Dave Cowens leading the way.

Bird and Isiah[edit]

In the 1978 NBA draft, the Celtics drafted Larry Bird who would soon resurrect the franchise's fortunes. Then in the 1981 NBA draft, the Pistons picked Isiah Thomas and along with head coach Chuck Daly he would also play a key role in his team's reemergence.

It was also in 1978 that the Pistons moved to the Eastern Conference, turning their matchups against the Celtics into an intra-conference affair. The Celtics would win three NBA championships in the 1980s, while the Pistons gradually built a team that eventually became the Bad Boys.

The two teams met in the 1985 Eastern Conference Semifinals, where the Celtics ousted the younger Pistons in six games. But when they reengaged in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, the Pistons were a vastly different team. The Bad Boys, as Detroit became known, used physical play to intimidate their way to victory. This roused the ire of Boston's players and fans, and the teams' mutual hatred of each other often led to on-court fighting. Detroit's biggest antagonists were Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman. In Game 3, Bird and Laimbeer were ejected for fighting as the Pistons won 122–104.

The most famous moment of the rivalry occurred during Game 5. Leading 107–106 with 5 seconds left, and Detroit threatening to take a 3–2 series lead, Isiah Thomas had his inbounds pass stolen by Bird, who dished it off to Dennis Johnson for the winning layup. With Parish forced to sit out Game 6 due to a suspension for punching Laimbeer in the second quarter of Game 5 (the first for a playoff game in NBA history; he also re-sprained his right ankle late in Game 5), the Pistons won Game 6 113–105 to send it back to Boston for Game 7. The Celtics ended the bitter series with a 117–114 win in Boston Garden over Detroit.

The Celtics and Pistons faced off anew in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals. This time the Pistons finally unseated the Celtics, winning the series 4–2 and advancing to the NBA Finals to face the Lakers. What was notable was that Detroit, who entered the series with 21 straight losses at the Boston Garden, beat Boston by winning 2 of 3 there (Games 1 and 5). In Game 5, the Celtics led by 16 before the Pistons rallied to win 102–96 in OT. In addition, their rough play and intense defense made Bird's scoring drop to just 10 points per game on 35.1% shooting, forcing Boston to rely on McHale.

The teams met twice more in the Brid/Thomas era. In the 1989 First Round, Detroit swept Boston 3–0 en route to their first championship, as the Celtics missed the services of Bird due to injury. Then in the 1991 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Pistons eliminated the Celtics in six games, but it proved to be the last hurrah for the two aging squads.

Later years[edit]

Both teams a period of rebuilding during the 1990s. Although the Pistons found a new star in Grant Hill, he was unable to lead the team back to championship contention. Meanwhile, the Celtics endured a long dry spell, not reaching the playoffs for much of the decade.

The 2000s saw both teams reemerge as contenders. In 2002, the Celtics and Pistons met again in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Boston was led by Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, while Detroit was led by Jerry Stackhouse and Ben Wallace. Though Detroit had a better regular season record, the Celtics surprisingly eliminated them in five games, reaching their first Conference Finals since 1988. However, the Pistons would go on to dominate the Eastern Conference, reaching six consecutive Conference Finals, two NBA Finals and winning the 2004 championship. One of the Pistons' key players during that era was Chauncey Billups, who the Celtics drafted third overall in the 1997 NBA draft but would later emerge as a star in Detroit. Meanwhile, the Celtics slid back to mediocrity, but was given a new lease in life during the 2007 offseason.

After acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Celtics and Pistons renewed the rivalry as they met in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals. However, the grind of reaching six straight conference finals took its toll on Detroit as Boston toppled their rivals in six games, eventually winning the championship that year.

The 2010s saw both teams head into opposite directions. Detroit endured a lengthy rebuild with only two playoff appearances, while Boston maintained its status as a playoff contender behind new stars such as Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]