WALTHAM, Mass. --Paul Pierce knew it. More importantly, he felt it.
The Celtics' captain knew that if the team could just string together a few defensive stops against the Detroit Pistons in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, it could overcome a 70-60 deficit with 10 1/2 minutes remaining.
"Even though we got down 10," Pierce said, "I never felt like we were out of the game."
The reason Pierce felt so supremely confident in Boston's defensive capabilities probably had something to do with the fact that the Celtics were the best defensive team in the NBA during the regular season and throughout the playoffs. They wound up limiting the Pistons to 33 percent shooting (6-for-18) in the fourth quarter and converted six turnovers into nine points, which helped fuel a decisive 19-4 run.
Now the team with the best defense in the playoffs, and the Defensive Player of the Year in Kevin Garnett, will host the Los Angeles Lakers, the team with the best offense in the playoffs, and the Most Valuable Player in Kobe Bryant, in Game 1 of the NBA Finals tonight.
The Lakers, who averaged 108 points during the regular season, arrive in Boston with the league's most potent offense in the playoffs, averaging 105.8 points with a field-goal percentage of .478. The Celtics' defense, meanwhile, has held opponents to an average of 87.2 points (three points fewer than they allowed in the regular season) and a .421 field-goal percentage.
The Western Conference's irresistible force, meet the Eastern Conference's immovable object.
"Am I anticipating this?" Pierce said. "I'm more than anticipating it. I'm ready. It's for all the marbles, man. This is for everything you've ever wanted."
If the Celtics are to do so, however, they will have to find a way to defend against the Lakers and their amazing scoring machine, Bryant, who averaged a league-leading 31.4 points in the first three rounds.
So how do the Celtics approach Bryant? Will they attempt to do to him what they did to LeBron James in the Eastern Conference semifinals? Or is the sum of L.A.'s parts as fearsome as, say, Detroit's, which revolved around dangerous weapons such as Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton complementing Chauncey Billups?
"You know, Kobe is a great, great talent," Pierce said. "Probably the best scorer, probably the best player in the game. But, physically, there's nobody like LeBron in the league. Kobe, he's going to score the points he scores by going around you and [using] finesse.
"LeBron, he's going to try and go right through you, which is a lot more demanding on your body. But they both get it done, and at the end of the day, you've got your work cut out for you, whichever one it is."
The Celtics could employ a rough style, but the Lakers seem to be ready for it.
"I don't know if it will be any more physical than the last couple of games [against the Spurs]," Tex Winter, Phil Jackson's longtime assistant coach who now holds the title of "basketball consultant" for the Lakers told, the South Bay (Calif.) Daily Breeze. "Those were knock-down-drag-outs. Fortunately, we dragged them out."