Boston looks to finish off Detroit in Game 6 tonight and meet the Lakers in the Finals.
The most strenuous thing the Boston Celtics did on Thursday was pack a bag for a 30-hour stay in the suburbs of Detroit. There was no practice session and no informal get-together to do some light shooting as the Celtics took a much-needed break from their Eastern Conference finals matchup with the Detroit Pistons.
All they did was board a 3 p.m. flight to Michigan and relaxed after a grueling night for the five starters who carried them to a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
How much the long stretches played by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins will affect them remains to be seen, but the Celtics looked like a tired and weary team as they fought off the Pistons for a 106-102 victory.
“I didn’t really think about how tired I was,” said Pierce after the win. “The only thing on my mind is getting a win, getting a step closer to being in the NBA Finals. I don’t think fatigue is going to be a factor for the rest of this series.
“The guys physically, for the most part, are feeling good, and it’s all about mental toughness right now.”
The motivation to fight through any weariness is the Celtics are just one victory away from getting to the Finals for the first time since 1987 to meet the Los Angeles Lakers, who finished off the San Antonio Spurs in five games with a 100-92 win Thursday night.
They can make that happen with a win tonight over the Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills (8:30, TV: ESPN; radio: WEEI-850 AM) and avoid being taken to a Game 7 for a third consecutive series.
The Celtics have gone the distance with the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers and will be playing their 20th postseason game tonight.
A win over the Pistons on the road would get the Celtics some time off before the championship round begins on Thursday night, but a loss puts that right back in another dramatic finale.
“We’ve just got to think about the next game,” said Coach Doc Rivers. “We’ve got to have a great focus and a great intensity there. You know, they’ve won (a title). They’ve been in this position before.
“We just have to go in there and play our game. That’s the whole key. Whatever happens, happens. But we’ve got to make sure we play our game. We can’t get caught up in anything that they’re doing.”
The Celtics needed long minutes from their starters as Rivers shortened the rotation and stuck with them for nearly the second half.
Rondo played 45:49, Pierce went 44:27, Garnett was on the floor for 41:25 and Allen (39:00) and Perkins (38:40) approached the 40-minute mark.
Rivers will use his bench a bit more tonight to keep that group fresher with a Game 7 a distinct possibility.
While the Celtics were resting, the Pistons were hoping that Richard Hamilton, their leading scorer in the series, has a speedy recovery.
Hamilton, averaging 22.2 points, suffered a strained right elbow in the closing seconds of Game 5 when he was tangled up with Allen.
X-rays were negative, but Hamilton left Boston wearing a sling and Coach Flip Saunders told reporters that if the game was Thursday night, he would not be playing.
“He’s got to get it polished up before he can play,” said Saunders.
Should Hamilton be unable to go, rookie Rodney Stuckey will get the call, and he has been effective off the bench in the series.
Also making news for Detroit was Rasheed Wallace, who was hit with a $25,000 fine on Thursday for making profane and critical comments about the officials after Game 5.
“The cats are flopping all over the floor and they’re calling that,” said Wallace. “That ain’t basketball out there. It’s all entertainment. You all should know that.”
Wallace is one technical foul away from receiving a one-game suspension in the playoffs after picking up his sixth on Wednesday night.
The Celtics are 29-0 in series after taking a 3-2 lead, but the Pistons overcame that deficit in 2005 against the Miami Heat in the conference finals and in 2006 in the conference semifinals against the Cavaliers.
“I really believe if we get Game 6, that we’re going to have a good opportunity in Game 7,” Saunders told reporters.
Said Rivers, “We don’t want to go to a Game 7. We want to win this now if we can. They’re not going to let us win it. We’re going to have to come in and take it. They’re a mentally tough team.”