, Gloucester, MA

March 6, 2008

An NBA rivalry is reborn

Bill Burt

BOSTON — It became official last night, amid the phony-baloney, 21st century new-wave circus at pro sporting events these days, which included cheerleaders, dancers, the mascot named Lucky, fireworks (yes, real fireworks) and corny chants of "Dee-fense! Dee-fense!

We have a bona fide rivalry.

The Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons don't like each other.

Well, that's not entirely true. They each want the same thing, an Eastern Conference championship, and they are willing to fight for it.

It took less than seven minutes before a Detroit Piston was lying on the floor playing dead, reminiscent of Bill Lamibeer via a Robert Parish blind-side right cross.

The 2008 version was Richard Hamilton after being shoved by Ray Allen, who has never been confused for an aggressor. Hamilton appeared to be knocked out. Of course, he got up as if nothing happened.

Where was Johnny Most, the late, great Celtics homer play-by-play man who termed those kinds of fake falls the "Stanislofsky flop," when we needed him?

This game had "edge" to it coming in, as you probably read or heard. Not only are they No. 1 and 2 in the entire league, but losing teams whined that other celebrated too much the last two times these two crossed paths.

Even Celtics coach Doc Rivers laughed at that one.

"That's pretty funny," said Rivers. "I think that tells you there is a little something to this. I like it, to be honest."

Like it? Where the heck has "it" been the last decade and a half?

Last night's clash featured bumps (Chauncey Billups shoving an in-his-face Rajon Rondo), trips (Rasheed Wallace putting his knee out on Rondo) and a jump ball that took 20 seconds to start because the referee didn't like the placement of Kevin Garnett's feet.

It wasn't pretty, but rivalries aren't supposed to be. The teams combined for 36 points in the first quarter, which resembled heavyweights shadow boxing for a few rounds before the real stuff started.

Every call by the officials was met with disdain from the alleged offender. The only problem for the Pistons was 18,000 New Englanders added fuel to Celtics' disdain.

What was interesting, as least from the Celtics perspective, was how Rondo would react to his first regular-season game that meant something.

Rondo was going against one of the toughest players in the league, Billups, who single-handedly got the Pistons back in the game with 13 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in the third quarter.

Well, Rondo obviously didn't win the battle, but he didn't really lose it either.

Rondo's thunderous — and I mean thunderous — dunk at 5:07 of the third quarter was the play of the year for the Celtics. He started his drive at half court with Hamilton by his side and sent the Garden into a frenzy as he laid on the floor after being fouled.

Trailing for most of the game by double digits, the Pistons did what they always do and made it a game.

From start to finish, good basketball or not, this was worth the wait and buildup.

E-mail Bill Burt at