This series between Detroit and Boston is basketball the way it used to be. Enjoy it, because there may never be anything like it again.
When the Pistons play host to the Celtics tonight in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, it will be the NBA's only show. And there's a good reason for that.The other three semifinal matches were settled quickly and quietly by the league's showcase teams: the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers.
But there is no Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Clyde Drexler in this series. No high-flying guys who soar and glide and play the new game, above the rim.
In this series, you get the Celtics with what Detroit coach Chuck Daly calls a "Hall of Fame" front line of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. Parish is 37 years old, Bird 34 and McHale 33.
And you get the Pistons, trying to become only the third team ever to win three consecutive NBA titles. Only three of their 12 players are under 30.
The Celtics have some young guards in Reggie Lewis, Brian Shaw and Dee Brown. They're all quick, especially the rookie Brown. But how fast can they go with that aging front line?
So mostly these two teams lumber up and down the floor. They play from memory as much as from muscle. But when they get it going, as they did Wednesday night in Game 5 at Boston Garden, it is a sight to behold.
"I can't explain it, but every time you get these two teams together in the playoffs, and it gets down to Game 5, it's always critical and it's always thrilling, and everyone seems to come up big," Detroit's 34-year-old Vinnie Johnson said.
This time, it was Bill Laimbeer's turn. Laimbeer, who turns 34 on Sunday, hit a 20-foot jumper over Bird that broke a 106-106 tie. Joe Dumars hit six free throws down the stretch as the Pistons won 116-111.
Detroit leads the best-of-7 series 3-2 and can clinch its fifth straight trip to the conference finals with a victory tonight. Absolutely nobody thinks it's a done deal.
"This is going to be a war," said Detroit's James Edwards, 35. "We have to take care of business. We don't want to go back to Boston."
If a seventh and deciding game is needed, it will be at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Boston. Over the years, the Celtics are 17-3 in the seventh game of these playoff showdowns, 14-2 at home. The Pistons are 1-3, 0-3.
"The Celtics are going to play very hard," Laimbeer said. "This series is far from over. They are a quality team."
A key factor will be healthy bodies. Both teams have several players trying to play over hurts.
Bird is playing with a sore back that caused him to miss Game 1, an 86-75 Pistons victory in Boston. He'll require surgery when the season is over.
"If we play great basketball, we can win," Bird said. "We've won in every arena we've been in, but we have to play better defense."
Parish's ankles gave out before halftime in Game 5. He played only 12 minutes for Boston and is questionable for tonight. If Parish cannot play, Joe Kleine will get extra minutes.
"We're not intimidated by them," Kleine said. "We could have easily swept this series. If we play our game, I think we can go back (to Boston) Sunday."
Detroit's Isiah Thomas has a sprained right foot that caused him to miss the third and fourth games. He is still nursing a sore right wrist, which was broken and required surgery to mend, and a pulled hamstring. He went scoreless in 15 minutes for the Pistons in Game 5.
"Whoever wins the next baketball game is going to have a dogfight on their hands," Thomas said.
Dumars has tendinitis in both knees and was clearly in pain as he made those clutch points. Despite the discomfort, he played all 48 minutes in Game 4 and 44 minutes in Game 5.
"We're well aware the Celtics aren't going to lay down," Dumars said. "We know they're confident they can win on the road."