- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

BOSTON Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker didn't just knock the Philadelphia 76ers out of the playoffs. They demolished Boston's old rival in a way that would have pleased the great Celtics teams of the past.

Pierce scored 46 points the fifth-best playoff performance in the storied franchise's history as the Celtics beat the defending Eastern Conference champions 120-87 in the decisive fifth game of their first-round series to advance to a second-round matchup with the Detroit Pistons.

"We turned it around," said point guard Kenny Anderson, the only player on Boston's roster who was in the league the last time the franchise won a playoff series. "Celtics pride is back."

Walker had 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Celtics, who are making their first postseason appearance since 1995. They had not advanced in the playoffs since 1992, Larry Bird's final season.

Allen Iverson scored 31 as the Sixers tried to become just the seventh team to win a five-game series after losing the first two. But they wilted when the Celtics went on a 19-4 run late in the fourth quarter, igniting the crowd and rekindling memories of the Boston Garden and the 16 NBA titles the Celtics won while playing there.

"To have the game in hand and be able to soak up the atmosphere was a bonus a great luxury," said Boston's Jim O'Brien, the former Rick Pitino assistant and former Sixers fan who is making his first playoff appearance as a coach.

"The mandate that we were given when we got here five years ago was to get the FleetCenter to be the Garden again. I think what this series did was accomplish that," O'Brien said.

Pierce was 8-for-10 from 3-point range, pushing off Matt Harpring and calmly nailing a 3 to give Boston a 97-79 lead with 6:05 left. The Sixers called a timeout, and the scoreboard cut to a crowd shots of Red Auerbach, Tommy Heinsohn, Danny Ainge, Jo Jo White and Cedric Maxwell.

The fans went wild, and the Celtics responded.

Walker followed with a 3-pointer, and Pierce hit two more to make it 106-82 with 4:15 left. Boston went 9-for-10 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter and 19-for-29 in all.

Eric Williams hit a shot to make it 108-82 and bring the substitutes into the game. Walker hit another 3 to give Boston a 30-point lead with 3:11 left but was called for a technical for taunting.

"To feel what some of the old guys were talking about, that we've heard about. To finally be a part of it and to build our own era," Walker explained. "That's what I was celebrating."

The Boston fans closed it out with a traditional chant of "Beat L.A.!" But the Celtics have another traditional rival to get through first: the Pistons, who in their Bad Boy incarnation succeeded the Celtics as the Eastern Conference's dominant power en route to NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.

Boston and Philadelphia have one of the oldest rivalries in the NBA, from the 1960s when Wilt Chamberlain was leading the Warriors against Bill Russell through the Bird and Julius Erving matchups of the 1980s.

After Boston won the first two games of this one, the Sixers managed to make it a series worthy of the rivalry by winning two at home. But to advance, they needed to win one game in Boston, where the Celtics went 27-14 in the regular season and have now won eight in a row.

The FleetCenter was packed for the most important game in its history; the last time Boston made the playoffs was in the final year of the Boston Garden. The crowd was juiced at one point it taunted Derrick Coleman into clanging a free throw off the front of the rim and so were the players.

Pierce could barely control himself before the opening tip, jumping around at the free throw line before any other players joined him on the court. He was among four Celtics starters with no playoff experience before this series.

That was the biggest advantage the Sixers brought into the series, with five holdovers from the team that lost to the Lakers in the NBA Finals last year.

But Iverson, who missed the last 14 games of the regular season with a broken hand and played the series with it padded, couldn't do it himself. Dikembe Mutombo had 12 points but shot 2-for-6.

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