Celtics Advance to East Finals

Wednesday, May 15th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) _ The Boston Celtics are back.

Paul Pierce scored 18 points as part of a balanced attack as the Celtics beat Detroit 90-81 Tuesday night to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1988.

Kenny Anderson added 17 points, Antoine Walker, who fouled out, had 16, Rodney Rogers scored 14 and Tony Battie added 10 as the Celtics improved to 21-0 when playing a Game 5 with a 3-1 lead.

Detroit's Chucky Atkins scored 22 points, Corliss Williamson scored 15 of his 17 points in the final quarter to bring the Pistons back briefly and Michael Curry added 15.

While Celtics stars Walker and Pierce were in foul trouble, Detroit's lone star had an off night. Jerry Stackhouse scored just eight points on 3-of-18 shooting.

The Pistons joined a long list of teams unable to overcome a 3-1 deficit. Just six teams in NBA history have won playoff series after trailing 3-1.

The Celtics will face the winner of the New Jersey-Charlotte series in the conference finals. The Nets lead the Hornets 3-1 with Game 5 in New Jersey on Wednesday night.

The last time Boston was in the conference finals, they lost to the Pistons. The last time the Celtics advanced to the NBA Finals was in 1987 when they eliminated Detroit.

Detroit got back into the game as Pierce and Walker both picked up their fifth fouls early in the final quarter.

The Pistons began the fourth quarter by outscoring Boston 10-2 _ with Williamson getting eight of the points _ to pull within 66-65 with 9:14 left. Anderson answered with a basket and when Detroit pulled within one twice over the next couple minutes, Anderson and Rogers scored to give the Celtics a cushion.

Pierce and Walker came back into the game with 4:07 left _ after sitting out several minutes _ with Boston ahead 77-72.

Pierce scored five straight points to make it 84-75 with 2:32 left.

The Pistons shot just 36.3 percent and failed to break 40 percent while losing the last four games.

The Celtics built a nine-point lead early in the second quarter, but couldn't maintain it. Detroit later went on a 13-4 run and took a 43-42 lead _ its first _ on Jon Barry's 3-pointer with 1:24 left in the half. The Pistons were ahead 45-44 at halftime.

Boston started the second half just like it did the game _ with a 5-0 run.

After Curry made a 3-pointer and a dunk on consecutive possessions to put Detroit ahead 50-49, the Celtics scored seven straight points.

They led 64-55 after three quarters after holding Detroit scoreless for the first 4:25 and the final 3:04 in its 10-point third.