Rivalry re-released for a new generation
When I reel my mind back four years, I suddenly feel like an idiot.
In 2004, I happened to be living in the Detroit area and the talk of the town was the Pistons thawing out their long-forgotten glory days and barnstorming into an NBA championship series against the Lakers.
For all the years I spent away from New England, I never gave an inch to my original allegiances, but when my blue-and-red, "Going to work" peers looked to me, I casually shrugged and reasoned, "Hey, I'm a Celtics fan, so I hate the Lakers. Go Pistons. Sure, why not?" Or else, something to that effect.
Fair enough reasoning, right? Not entirely.
Wherever Johnny Most is these days, he had to have been glaring down at me with at least a dollop of venom. Any Cs fan who really reads and reviews his history text would have looked at that matchup and folded his arms in indifferent disgust.
But what better could I have known? The Pistons' resurgence aside, the Celtics had done nothing to match it. Therefore, the mutual hostilities that once defined these two franchises were on salted ground, especially for those who were born around the 1980s-1990s borderline, right when the Celtics characteristic dominance ran dry.
And even those who are able to gleefully recall Larry Bird's famous steal in 1987 as well as the Pistons' vengeance the following spring didn't appear all that stirred up when these franchises converged again back in 2002. That might just be the retrospect talking, but six years and yet another Boston nosedive after the fact, there wasn't anything special about that run or series.
This time around, it's foolproof. The Pistons are an established reckonable -stepping into their sixth conseuctive conference final- and the Cs have deflected every single doubt that the skeptics and sages have thrust at them.
Unlike 2002, when the Pistons themselves were still clad in question marks, both the heroes and the enemies are now glamorously seated in Cheers. Everybody knows the names of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and getting to know the likes of Rajan Rondo, James Posey, Sam Cassell, etc. every day. Everybody also knows Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, and definitely ex-Celtics draftee Chauncey Billups.
By the time the reformed Celtics had finished their first go-around with the Pistons back on December 19, the older and wiser bystanders grinned pleasurably. They all knew that this matchup meant something again and the entire mass was all the more convinced that this was the the ultimate titanic tussle in the East.
After all, that night it took the Pistons every last second and a breath-taking balk by Allen at the free-throw line to drape the first home "L" on the Cs' 2007-08 transcript. Up till then, Boston was a convincing 12-0 in regulation games on the Garden floor.
And wouldn't you know it? The Celtics commence this series Tuesday night on the parquet riding a rather vital 8-0 home record through the first two playoff rounds. All things considered, the playoff egg may require a little extra careful monitoring.
Similarly, the Pistons have a little Palace pimple-cleansing on their minds as well, having lost their only regular season home date to the Celtics on January 5, 92-85. That was only their third loss in Auburn Hills out of 15 outings and they finished a not-so-shabby 33-8 there.
Also note that Detroit proved its post-season home vincibility -something that even the Hawks didn't do- by means of a 90-86 falter to Philadelphia in the opener of Round 1.
All this in mind, there is potential for one of these giants to finally wrestle down the supernatural home court mystique that has defined this NBA post-season. What's really harrowing, though, is that that road win -whoever claims it- might not automatically decide the series. Either team, subsisting on its own accomplishments, could still recompense even if it spills another home game in this series.
At least, that's what Celtics fans would hope. When they look at the six shortcomings in Atlanta and Cleveland and say a road win has to happen sometime, they mean it really has to happen. It won't necessarily seal the deal, but it would add a comfy coat of mail.
Anything that would give one an extra breath of assurance watching this series. History implies it was that way before, when the Pistons were trying to dethrone the almighty Celts, and it's that way again with the roles reversed.