BOSTON - Paul Pierce's free-throw attempt hit square on the back rim, bounced high up in the air and came straight down through the net. Home, sweet home.
2008 NBA Finals
Thursday's Game 1
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If the Boston Celtics hadn't won 66 regular season games and earned home-court advantage throughout the postseason, it likely would have been Pierce with his eyes welled up after Sunday afternoon's game and not LeBron James.
But Pierce made a pair of key free throws late to give the Celtics a clean sweep of home games in the first two rounds of the postseason.
That's what you point to if you are a glass-half-full Celtics fan the home record of the Green Team in the playoffs. However, critics will point to the goose egg that the C's have put up on the road in six postseason tries.
Not that it mattered Sunday. Pierce won a scintillating back-and-forth matchup with King James to lead Boston to the Eastern Conference finals after a 97-92 win. The Celtics will begin their next series against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night.
"Before the year, we thought we'd be in the Eastern Conference championship and at home in Game 1," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "That's where we are. We're exactly where we should be."
True, but the road that the Celtics took wasn't exactly the blueprint that anyone had envisioned. They were taken to the limit against the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the opening round, and then had an identical outcome against the Cavs.
If Pierce hadn't gone for 41 points and done his best Larry Bird impersonation from two decades ago in a Game 7 against Dominique Wilkins, Boston fans would be lighting up the airwaves calling for Rivers' dismissal.
The only shots that Ray Allen can sink these days are ones in which no one is allowed to move in front of him. Sam Cassell looks every bit his age and has been relegated to picking up splinters and Rajon Rondo is still a mystery down the stretch, when opposing teams leave him to double-team guys that can actually knock down consistent jump shots.
Even Kevin Garnett is capable of a disappearing act when the game is on the line.
"We're struggling," Celtics boss Danny Ainge said. "I don't think we're playing our best basketball at home or on the road. I think we're a better team than we're playing right now."
The Pistons are up next for this struggling club and there's no chance that the Big 2½ (Allen can no longer be included) can get past the Detroit Pistons if they don't quickly begin to resemble the team that went into the playoffs as the top seed and favorites to win the NBA championship.
LeBron was basically a one-man show. He went for 45 points, dished out a half-dozen assists and grabbed five rebounds and the Cavs still lost.
"The fans came to see Paul Pierce and LeBron James play," said James, who did his best Michael Jordan impersonation and referred to himself in the third person multiple times in the postseason news conference.
He's right on the Cleveland end, though. No one is coming to watch Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak or Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
It's all about 'Bron-'Bron.
But Boston's next opponent won't be nearly as easy to contain. The Pistons have weapons everywhere you look. They are clearly superior to Atlanta and Cleveland. Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince are all capable of putting up 20 points, and each has extensive postseason experience. Even reserve guard Rodney Stuckey would probably start for the Cavs.
But Boston does have a saving grace its home-court edge. The Celtics are now 43-6 at home since Ainge made the deals to unite Pierce with Garnett and Allen. And while Pierce carried the Celtics Sunday, he did get some help from who else but P.J. Brown. The veteran big man came up with the most critical basket of the entire game when he was left alone and buried a 17-footer from the left side with 1:21 left in the game to give Boston a 91-88 advantage.
After a pair of Eddie House free throws a little more than a minute later, Cleveland's Sasha Pavlovic knocked down a 3-pointer that once again cut the deficit to three points.
Then Pierce put the game away with the friendly shooter's roll at the line.
"Home court meant a lot in this round," James said.
In fact, it was the difference between staying alive and going home for good.