Basketball Celtics stifle Pistons' Game 5 push on Allen's jumper, free throws


Bench Warmer
BOSTON (AP) -- Boston's three All-Stars finally put it all together to move the Celtics one win away from the NBA Finals for the first time since the original Big Three's heyday.

Ray Allen scored 29, hitting a long 2-pointer with a minute left after Detroit came within one point, then he and Kevin Garnett each made a pair of free throws down the stretch as the Celtics beat the Detroit Pistons 106-102 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.

A Ray-Connection

Ray Allen was basically a missing man the first four games of the East finals, but he more than made up for his disappearance with his play in Game 5. Here's a look at his improvement:
Ray Allen In Conf. Finals First four games G5
PPG 14.8 29
FG pct. 38.0 60.0
3-pt FG/FGA 3/14 5/6

Boston will take a 3-2 lead into Game 6 on Friday in Detroit. With a victory there or on Sunday back in Boston, the Celtics would advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish took them there in 1987.

"We knew the significance of this game," said Garnett, whose 33 points were his most 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."

Kendrick Perkins had career playoff highs with 18 points and 16 rebounds, and Rajon Rondo added seven points, 13 assists, six rebounds and four steals for Boston. Paul Pierce scored 13 of his 16 points in the first half, when Perkins outrebounded the Pistons 13-11 by himself.

"Perkins is eating us up," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said.

The 6-foot-10 center, in his first playoffs as a starter, helped Boston to a 42-25 rebounding edge in the game. Although he's just 23, he knows that players such as Garnett, Pierce and Allen can't afford to let this chance at a title get away.

"I know our Big Three veteran guys. I know this opportunity doesn't come much," he 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 29 points was also a playoff high for Allen, the usually reliable scorer who had been cold for most of the playoffs.

"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."

Chauncey Billups scored 26 and Richard Hamilton had 25 points for Detroit, which has reached the conference finals six consecutive years but played for the championship just twice and won once in that span.

"The good thing about it is we're going home," said Billups, who twice drove to the basket in the final 10 seconds, hoping for a foul that wasn't there, and also missed an inconsequential 3-pointer at the buzzer. "We've been here before, and we don't like being in this position, but we've fought hard."

Hamilton strained his right elbow in the final seconds. X-rays were negative.

Boston led by as many as 17 in the third quarter, but Hamilton scored 13 points during a 21-8 Detroit run that made it 92-88 with 4:46 left.

Boston led 100-96 before Rodney Stuckey hit a 3-pointer with 1:22 left. But, after a timeout with 6 seconds left on the shot clock, Allen took the inbounds pass and put up a jumper to give Boston a three-point lead.

Billups tried an off-balance layup that missed, but in the fight for the rebound the Celtics tipped it out of bounds. Billups drove again, putting it harmlessly off the front of the rim.

Faltering In Five

With their Game 5 loss Wednesday, the Pistons trail the East finals 3-2 to the Celtics. This marks the sixth time Detroit has trailed a series 3-2 in the conference finals and of those six times, the Pistons have lost five times. Here's a look
Pistons Down 3-2, East Finals Year Opponent Series Result
2008 Celtics ???
2007 Cavaliers Lost, 4-2
2006 Heat Lost, 4-2
2005 Heat Won, 4-3
1987 Celtics Lost, 4-3
1962 Lakers Lost, 4-2

The Celtics ran down the 24-second clock before Garnett was forced to take an off-balance jumper. Rondo fouled Stuckey, who hit both free throws to make it 102-101 with 8.2 seconds left.

Allen matched them, then Rondo again wrapped up Stuckey. But this time the rookie missed the first, giving the Boston Garden crowd a reason to erupt.

Garnett hit a pair of free throws to clinch it.

The Celtics earned home-court advantage with an NBA-best 66-16 record in the regular season, but the Pistons took it away with a victory in Boston in Game 2. The Celtics swiped it back with a split in Detroit, and now have two chances to clinch -- including a potential seventh game at home.

Detroit trailed 23-20 in the final minute of the first quarter before scoring 13 of the next 15 points. The Pistons still led 42-36 with five minutes left in the second when Boston scored 11 in a row, getting back-to-back 3 pointers from Paul Pierce and Allen to take the lead for good.

Garnett added a fallaway 3-point bank shot at the 24-second clock buzzer -- just his second 3 pointer of the season -- to give Boston a 50-43 lead with 1:23 left in the half. Perkins had two of the first three baskets in the second half to extend the lead to 11 points.

Allen added consecutive 3-pointers midway through the third to turn an eight-point game to a 14-point lead.

Game notes
Rasheed Wallace picked up a technical with 5:18 left in the game. It was his sixth of the postseason, and his next earns him a one-game suspension. He criticized the officials afterward in an expletive-filled tirade, saying, "A lot of those foul calls, cats were flopping and falling all over the floor." ... It was Perkins' 17th double-double in his career and the third time he has had one in the first half. ... The Garden scoreboard operators have figured out how to fire up the crowd: Show Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the scoreboard. ... Brian Scalabrine was active for the first time in the playoffs because Tony Allen injured his Achilles' tendon during practice on Tuesday. ... Wallace was 3-for-27 on 3-pointers in his previous eight games. ... Detroit's Game 4 hero, Antonio McDyess, fouled out with five minutes left and scored just four points.