Isiah Thomas of Detroit and Larry Bird of Boston ignored their injuries and raised their play to help the Pistons and Celtics escape the opening round of NBA playoffs and set up an Eastern Conference semifinal showdown against each other.
Pushed to Game 5 finales, Thomas scored 26 points in his best game since coming back from wrist surgery to frustrate the Atlanta Hawks and lead the Pistons to a 113-81 victory. Bird, already battling a bad back, returned in the second half after smacking his head on the floor to finish with 32 points and bring the Celtics a 124-121 triumph over the Indiana Pacers.Detroit and Boston are scheduled to open their second-round series in Boston Tuesday.
Boston faces Detroit in the playoffs for the first time since the Pistions bumped the Celtics in the first round in 1988 on the way to a championship.
"People are going to have to realize that there are no more easy series," Thomas said. "If it comes down to Game 7, I think we'll be in good shape because we've learned how to win the big game."
In a second-round opener, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated Golden State 126-116.
Monday night, the Bulls enter Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal at Chicago leading the Philadelphia 76ers 1-0.
Pistons 113, Hawks 81
At Auburn Hills, Mich., Thomas added 11 assists for the defending two-time champions.
"I thought that was Isiah's best game since he's been back," Detroit Coach Chuck Daly said. "He seems to thrive on this type of situation. We're fortunate that we have a player that has his ability to lift the whole team. When our backs are to the wall, he seems to raise his game to another level."
The Pistons struggled without Thomas and finished 11 games back of Chicago in the Central Division. They have not fallen in the first round of the playoffs since 1986 when the Hawks beat them in four games.
"Our season was on the line. Our championship was on the line," Thomas said. "I'm just glad we won the game. . . . I knew our team would play well. We played like the team we're trying to become in the playoffs."
Atlanta shot 6 of 25 in the third quarter and made only 17 field goals going into the final period. The Hawks made only one basket - a 3-point shot by John Battle with 2:46 left - in the final 5:41 as the Pistons opened a 90-58 cushion.
Atlanta's Dominique Wilkins was held to 10 points on 4-of-18 shooting.
"I did not think this would happen," Atlanta Coach Bob Weiss said. "We tried the same things we've done in the past four games defensively, but offensively is where we fell apart. Detroit hit the shot, executed and got it going."
Joe Dumars also chipped in 22 points for Detroit, which had seven players score in double figures. The Pistons shot 48.9 percent from the field compared with 29.7 percent (27 of 91 attempts) for the Hawks.
Celtics 124, Pacers 121
At Boston, Bird left the game in the second quarter after bruising his right cheek and returned midway through the third quarter to a roaring ovation from the sellout crowd of 14,890.
"They were pumped up and I wasn't going to let them down," said the 34-year-old forward, who scored 12 points in the third quarter. "I was coming back no matter what."
"He came out and picked the whole team up and took us to the next round," reserve Derek Smith said.
The Celtics held a 116-102 lead with 5:10 to play in the fourth quarter. Indiana almost completed a comeback but Brian Shaw hit all four foul shots in the final 6.6 seconds.
"This was a storybook game," said Indiana's Chuck Person, who had 32 points, including five 3-pointers. His boasting and bravado became a sideshow to the series, but he was gracious in defeat."
Lakers 126, Warriors 116
At Inglewood, Calif., Byron Scott nailed all five of his 3-point attempts en route to 27 points and the Los Angeles Lakers capitalized on the absence of injured Chris Mullin in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal.
Magic Johnson had his first triple-double of these playoffs - 21 points, 17 assists and 10 rebounds - for the Lakers, who have beaten the Warriors 11 straight times in the postseason at the Forum since March 1969.
Mullin suffered a strained right knee Friday night when Golden State clinched the first-round against San Antonio. The team's leading scorer with 25.7 points per game also is questionable for Wednesday night when the best-of-seven series resumes.