The Pistons-Celtics Rivalry or Celtics-Pistons rivalry refers to the rivalry between two teams in the National Basketball Association's Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons and the Boston Celtics. The rivalry peaked in the late 1980s, featuring players such as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Isiah Thomas, and Joe Dumars. These teams met in the NBA Playoffs five times in seven seasons from 1985–1991, with the Celtics winning in 1985 and 1987, and the Pistons coming out on top in 1988, 1989, and 1991.

NBA Playoff seriesEdit

1985 Eastern Conference SemifinalsEdit

  • Game 1: BOS 133 DET 99
  • Game 2: BOS 121 DET 114
  • Game 3: DET 125 BOS 117
  • Game 4: DET 102 BOS 99
  • Game 5: BOS 130 DET 123
  • Game 6: BOS 123 DET 113

Boston wins series 4–2.

1987 Eastern Conference FinalsEdit

The Celtics had established themselves as the best team in the Eastern Conference for the earlier part of the decade, with 5 Eastern Conference titles from 1981–1987. But with the emergence of the younger Pistons came the first real threat to the Celtic dynasty. The "Bad Boys", as the Pistons became known, used physical and often dirty playing tactics to intimidate their opponents and bully their way to victory. This roused the ire of Boston's players and fans, and the teams' mutual hatred of each other often led to on-court fighting. Detroit's biggest antagonists were Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman. In game 3 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, Bird and Laimbeer were both ejected for fighting as the Pistons went on to rout the Celtics 122–104.

Perhaps the most famous moment of the Pistons-Celtics rivalry occurred during Game 5. Leading by one point with just a few seconds remaining, and threatening to take a commanding 3–2 lead in the series, the Pistons' Isiah Thomas had his inbounds pass intercepted by Larry Bird, who quickly dished to Dennis Johnson for the winning layup. With Robert Parish forced to sit out game 6 due to a suspension for punching Bill Laimbeer in the second quarter of game 5 (the first suspension for a playoff game in NBA history), the Pistons won game 6 to send the series back to Boston for a 7th game. The Celtics ended the bitter series with a 117–114 home win over the Pistons in Game 7.

  • Game 1: BOS 104 DET 91
  • Game 2: BOS 110 DET 101
  • Game 3: DET 122 BOS 104
  • Game 4: DET 145 BOS 119
  • Game 5: BOS 108 DET 107
  • Game 6: DET 113 BOS 105
  • Game 7: BOS 117 DET 114

Boston wins series 4–3.

1988 Eastern Conference FinalsEdit

Thomas would get his revenge against Bird in the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons finally unseated the Celtics, winning the series 4–2 and advancing to the NBA Finals to face the Los Angeles Lakers. What was notable in the Eastern series was the fact that the Pistons, who entered the series with 21 straight losses at the Boston Garden, defeated the Celtics by winning two of three games at the Garden (Game 1 and Game 5). In Game 5, the Celtics even led by as many as 16 points before the Pistons rallied to win 102–96. In addition, their rough style of play and intense defense shut down Bird's scoring dramatically, holding him to just 10.0 points per game on 35.1% shooting, thus forcing the Celtics to rely on McHale.

  • Game 1: DET 104 BOS 96
  • Game 2: BOS 119 DET 115
  • Game 3: DET 98 BOS 94
  • Game 4: BOS 79 DET 78
  • Game 5: DET 102 BOS 96
  • Game 6: DET 95 BOS 90

Detroit wins series 4–2.

1989 Eastern Conference First RoundEdit

In the 1989 playoffs, the two teams meet again only this time the Pistons were the top seed while the Bird-less Celtics were the 8th-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. As expected, the Pistons swept the Celtics, 3 games to 0.

  • Game 1: DET 101 BOS 91
  • Game 2: DET 102 BOS 95
  • Game 3: DET 100 BOS 85

Detroit wins series 3–0.

1991 Eastern Conference SemifinalsEdit

The Celtics and the Pistons would meet each other one last time in 1991. Similar to the 1988 series, the Celtics had the home court advantage but lost to the Pistons in six games. By this time however, Bird's health had deteriorated, Thomas was injured and both teams had a new set of players.

  • Game 1: DET 86 BOS 75
  • Game 2: BOS 109 DET 103
  • Game 3: BOS 115 DET 83
  • Game 4: DET 104 BOS 97
  • Game 5: DET 116 BOS 111
  • Game 6: DET 117 BOS 113

Detroit wins series 4–2.

2002 Eastern Conference SemifinalsEdit

In 2002, the Celtics and Pistons meet again in the Eastern Semifinals, now featuring new stars in Paul Pierce and Ben Wallace, respectively. As in the past confrontations between the two teams, they take the personality of each other, the Pistons being physical, defensive-minded ballclub, the Celtics being an old-school fastbreak team that has been their tradition. Though the Celtics go on to win in five, the Pistons obviously began to make its presence felt as they eventually return to championship form and go on to win the NBA title in 2004.

  • Game 1: DET 94 BOS 86
  • Game 2: BOS 85 DET 77
  • Game 3: BOS 66 DET 64
  • Game 4: BOS 90 DET 79
  • Game 5: BOS 90 DET 81

Boston wins series 4–1.

2008 Eastern Conference FinalsEdit

After the acquisition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, the Celtics may have renewed this rivalry. December 19 saw the clash of the new look Celtics and Pistons, which resulted in a 87–85 Detroit win after Chauncey Billups hit two key Free throws. The Celtics won the season series 2–1 and the two teams are set to face each other in another Eastern Conference Finals. Celtics have had to play 7 games each round while Detroit played 6 in the first and cruised by with 5 games in the second.

  • Game 1: BOS 88 DET 79
  • Game 2: DET 103 BOS 97
  • Game 3: BOS 94 DET 80
  • Game 4: DET 94 BOS 75
  • Game 5: BOS 106 DET 102
  • Game 6: BOS 89 DET 81

Boston wins series 4–2.

Regular seasonEdit


Despite the bitter losses, Bird would have the last laugh. During the 1991–92 regular season (Bird's final season), the Celtics beat the Pistons in all four of their meetings.


In August 2003, Bird fired Isiah Thomas as head coach of the Indiana Pacers, shortly after taking over as President of Basketball Operations. Thomas was replaced by Rick Carlisle, a former teammate of Bird's on the Boston Celtics. Immediately the Pacers improved under Carlisle's leadership.

External linksEdit

See alsoEdit

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