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 head 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 three-point range, pushing off Matt Harpring and calmly nailing a three 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 three-pointer and Pierce hit two more to make it 106-82 with 4:15 left. Boston went 9-for-10 from three-point range in the fourth quarter and 19-for-29 in all.
Eric Williams hit a two-pointer to make it 108-82 and bring the substitutes into the game. Walker hit another three 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."