The long road to an NBA title continues for four teams that expected to be exactly where they are when the playoffs began. The Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs have left little doubt that they are the best the league has to offer as they seek to survive what is a grueling process.
In the Eastern Conference, the Celtics assumed a 1-0 lead over the Pistons in their best-of-seven semi-finals series with an 88-79 victory at home on Tuesday night. Coming off of a hard-fought 97-92 second round Game 7 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, the Celtics showed no signs of fatigue against the well-rested Pistons. Having been idle since closing out the Orlando Magic on May 13, methodically eliminating them 4-1, the Pistons were out of sync offensively against the Celtics and could not slow down Kevin Garnett, who had 26 points and nine rebounds. The Celtics remained undefeated at home in the post-season (9-0), but have yet to win on the road (0-6).
The Pistons are well equipped to blemish the Celtics’ perfect mark and are likely to be in much better rhythm tonight (Thursday) in Game 2 in Boston. Particularly optimistic is their all-star point guard Chauncey Billups, who scored an innocuous nine points and attempted only six shots in Game 1. It was Billups’ return to the Pistons lineup after missing the last two games against the Magic after straining his right hamstring on May 7. Noticeably rusty, the veteran is confident he and his teammates will perform much better in Game 2. “[The Celtics] have been very good here at home,” Billups said. “We are usually a really good team; we didn’t have a good game today, but we look forward to Thursday.”
In the Western Conference, the Lakers and Spurs opened up their semi-final series last night (Wednesday) in Los Angles in a match-up of the NBA’s two most successful franchises over the past 10 years. Dating back to the 1998-1999 season, when the Spurs won their first championship–besting the New York Knicks 4-1–the teams have combined to capture seven of the last nine titles. But while the Lakers have not held the crown since the 2001-02 campaign, the defending champion Spurs have earned the gold in two of the past three seasons.