Thomas helps Pistons avoid a return to Boston


AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Nobody wanted to go back to Boston. Nobody in the Detroit Pistons' entourage. You don't want to have to win a seventh game at Boston Garden. A championship season can hit a dead spot on the floor and never bounce back up.

After a huge scare, there is nothing to worry about now. No leprechauns and parquet and banners haunting like ghosts in the rafters. The Pistons took care of business Friday night, dispatching the Celtics, 117-113, with some theatrical overtime heroics by Isiah Thomas.

Tomorrow, Detroit will be heading not to Boston, but to Chicago for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Joe Dumars helped provide Detroit's preferred travel plans with 32 points, but it was Thomas, ignoring injuries to his wrist and foot and recovering from a botched play at the end of regulation, who finally got the Pistons' plane headed toward Chicago and not Boston.

Thomas scored eight of his 17 points and supplied masterful defense in the overtime as the Pistons finally overcame Boston, four games to two.

Boston missed its stoic center, Robert Parish, who sat out with a tender left ankle. Without the Chief, the Celtics should have been cigar-store Indians in the middle, but Kevin McHale came ** off the bench for 34 points and kept the Pistons worrying about a Game 7 until the final second had drained from overtime.

This will be Detroit's fifth consecutive appearance in the Eastern finals, their third straight against Chicago. The Pistons defeated Chicago the past two seasons, and though they lack the home-court advantage this time, they are convinced that they can do it three times in a row and then win a third straight National Basketball Association title.

"Basically, the dream is still alive," said Detroit coach Chuck Daly. "Here we go."

The Pistons' motto is "Three the Hard Way," and nothing was more difficult than Friday night's victory.

An 80-63 third-quarter lead evaporated on Detroit, and regulation ended with the score 105-105 after Thomas lost the ball on a spin move in the lane.

Boston jumped ahead in overtime, taking a 109-105 lead on a follow dunk by Ed Pinckney. The lead didn't last long. Not with Thomas refusing to let Detroit falter. Thomas always provides some kind of Motor City madness during the playoffs. This time, it was a three-pointer that went in off the backboard and put the Pistons up 110-109.

"It was a miracle shot," Daly said. "It came out of the blue."

Thomas struck again with a jumper from the left of the key, putting Detroit tenuously ahead again, 112-111. A jumper by Bill Laimbeer gave the Pistons some breathing room before Thomas hounded Boston rookie Dee Brown into a traveling violation with 43.7 seconds left. With 25 seconds to go, Thomas exploited Brown again, hitting a 20-foot jumper, and the Pistons went up 116-111.

"Isiah hit some big shots, but we needed the other more," Daly said of Thomas' defense.

The Celtics closed to 116-113 on a basket by McHale but could not catch up. With 14.4 seconds left, Thomas sealed the victory for Detroit with a free throw.

Finally, there was no Game 7 in Boston to fear, only Game 1 in Chicago to anticipate.

"They played their hearts out, as we did," Daly said of the $H Celtics, who played gallantly without Parish and with a hobbled, pained Larry Bird, who hit only four of 14 shots and finished with 12 inconsequential points.

"The last two games of this series were two of the better games I've ever seen in the NBA," Daly said.

Hardly any could have been as wrenching as Friday night's. For either team.

Boston will spend the summer futilely questioning an offensive goaltending call on McHale that occurred with the Celtics up 103-101 in the final 90 seconds of regulation. Reggie Lewis had put up a hook shot that had rattled out of the basket. McHale directed it in, but the officials ruled that he had done it illegally, while the ball was still hanging over the rim.

"I thought we had that game won," McHale said. "That goaltending call just croaked us. But those referees did a good job all night. It could have gone one way or the other. What are you going to do about it?"

Boston went up by four points in overtime but couldn't hold the lead. Overtime was Isiah Thomas time.

"I didn't feel I had to take over," Thomas said. "But I sensed everyone was waiting for me to do something. Hell, I didn't know what I would do."

Quickly, he figured out something redemptive and magnificent.

"He's Isiah Thomas -- that's all you've got to say," Laimbeer said. "Like when you say Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. You don't have to say any more.

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