A look at the matchup between the Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals, which begin Tuesday night (with regular-season record, playoff series marks in parentheses):
No. 1 BOSTON CELTICS (66-16, 8-6) vs. No. 3 DETROIT PISTONS (59-23, 8-3).
Season Series: Celtics, 2-1. The Pistons handed the Celtics their first home loss when Chauncey Billups made two free throws with 0.1 seconds left for an 87-85 victory on Dec. 19. Boston won the last two meetings, holding Detroit to 81.5 points per game. The Pistons shot just 38.6 percent in the three games. Kevin Garnett averaged 24 points for Boston, while Billups went for 22.7 per game but made only 16 of 41 shots (39 percent).
Storyline: The teams with the top records in the NBA meet in the Eastern Conference finals matchup that most everyone expected. Detroit had little trouble getting here for the sixth straight year, but Boston was pushed to seven games in each of the first two rounds, winning all its home games while going 0-6 on the road.
Key Matchup I: Paul Pierce vs. Tayshaun Prince. Pierce scored 41 points in the Celtics' Game 7 victory over Cleveland, but he was inconsistent in the series, struggling through 2-for-14, 6-for-17 and 5-for-15 performances. Now he gets a superb postseason defender in Prince, who shut down Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala in the first round and contained Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu in key spots in the last series. And he's played very well offensively in the postseason, averaging 16 points on 56 percent shooting. Pierce was held to 15 points on 37 percent shooting against Detroit in the regular season.
Key Matchup II: Richard Hamilton vs. Ray Allen. They're regarded as the two best players from UConn, but there's no debating which one has been better in this postseason. Hamilton is averaging 21.5 points, leading Detroit in scoring and boosting that to 31.5 per game in the last two games against Orlando, when the Pistons were without Billups. Allen was horrible against the Cavaliers, managing just 9.3 points and making less than one-third of his shots. One of the best outside shooters in league history, he didn't hit a 3-pointer in either of the last two games.
X-Factor: Backing up their points. Pistons rookie Rodney Stuckey showed he can run the team when Billups missed nearly three games with an injured hamstring in the last round, but Boston's backup to second-year point guard Rajon Rondo looks more unsettled. Sam Cassell, signed late in the year for playoff experience, hasn't made a shot since Game 2 and fell out of the rotation. If Rondo struggles, it may be Eddie House who inherits his minutes.
Prediction: Pistons in 6.
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