NBA Rivalries: Boston Celtics vs. Detroit Pistons

Since the 1980s the Celtics and Pistons have only played against each other 5 times in the NBA playoffs. The Boston Celtics odds are almost always in their favor, but the Pistons are the team with the best story.

In all fairness, the rivalry peaked around the 90s, and since then no real beef has occurred between the teams. But who knows, maybe old coals will start a fire again?

Table of Contents

The Lead Up

Although the teams have been around since the 1940s, they were always in different conferences or divisions. Sure they would play against each other on the odd occasion, but the teams had no real connection to each other.

In the 1950s, the Pistons were doing well. They were a new team and yet they made it to the NBA finals twice.

The Celtics, on the other hand, were putting all their efforts into Bill Russell and their hard work was paying off. Between the late 50s and late 60s, the team had won 11 championships!

The Bad Boys Era

If Fanduel NBA rumors had been around in 1980, then they would have a few words to say about the Detroit Pistons.

Let’s start from the beginning. In 1978, Boston drafted Larry Bird. This player quickly showed his worth, helping the team get out of their slump.

During this time Detroit was moving into the Eastern Conference – the first time these teams were in the same conference. The Celtics won the championship that year, but the real news came from the Pistons. Their emergence into the Eastern Conference was a shock. These players didn’t just use in-game tactics, they also teased the players out of the games.

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They soon were given the title “bad boys”.

In 1981, the Pistons drafted Isiah Thomas, another player to instantly help the team.

At this point, the Pistons were at the peak of their bad boy era. With Thomas on the side, these men were physically intense players. They would intimate their way to victory.

The Boston fans weren’t happy with this brutal method, and soon the Celtics showed their disgust too.

The Pistons weren’t technically doing anything wrong, and so a rivalry began based on decorum not playing style or cheating.

As the intensity rose, fights on the courts became commonplace. Thomas and Bird were the worst for it – starting shouting matches and punching each other when something didn’t go their way.

During this time the bad boys were getting stronger as a team and were making it to the finals.

Parish Forced To Sit Out

Arguably the most intense moment in the rivalry happened with 5 seconds left on the clock. The Celtics were in the lead but only by 1 point, when Thomas had his pass stolen by Bird. Johnson got the ball through an assist and ended the game with a winning layup.

This was the 5th of 6 games, and in the interlude, Parish rushed up to a Celtic player and punched him square in the face. The hit was against Laimbeer, someone who injured him not long before.

Parish was forced to sit out of the rest of the game, and this fueled Detroit into a rage. That rage was enough for them to win the game 113-105, forcing them into a 7th game. The Celtics eventually won overall.

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The Pistons Finally Unseat The Celtics

During this whole rivalry, the Celtics were always dominating. They were the head of the Eastern Conference, and it seemed like nothing would bring them down.

However, in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals, the bad boys and the Celtics were up against each other once more. In an intense match, the Pistons finally beat their rivals 4-2, which allowed them to reach the NBA finals.

The 2008 Championships

During the Thomas/Bird era, the team met two more times, but the drama started to die down. Most players had retired by now, and a new team meant new priorities.

Fast forward to the 2000s, and the Celtics and Detries mostly meet at the Conference Finals. Although Detroit was doing well, the Celtics slammed them in 5 games. This was the first time the Celtic reached the championships since their 1988 knockout.

This win didn’t last long though as the next two finals were taken on by the Pistons and they won the title in 2004.

In 2008, the team met up again for the Conference Finals. The last time this happened, the Celtics whipped the floor with the Pistons, but this time Detroit won the finals in 6 straight games.

Total Wins So Far

As of May 2023, the Pistons have won 160 games in the rivalry, while the Celtics have won 268. At the playoff stage, that translates to 21 wins for the Pistons and 24 for the Celtics.

Final Thoughts

Although the Celtics have the lead overall, their playoff wins shows reality. The Celtics were winning when the Pistons were new, but when it really comes down to it, the teams are evenly matched.

History doesn’t always indicate where the future will end up.

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