Things are brighter in Beantown

First, the Celtics played great defense to take the last two from Detroit. The clincher was especially notable, as the Celtics won with Walker and Pierce on the bench for most of the fourth quarter with foul trouble. Kenny Anderson, Tony Battie and Rodney Rogers each scored in double figures.

But the difference is obviously the defense. There’s no way the Celtics could have won a game like that one last year. With their porous defense, they would have dug a huge hole so deep that Walker and Pierce’s time on the bench would have been much more costly than it was on Monday.

So now the Nets. It will be a tough series, but it’s hard to think the Celtics will be able to pull it out. Anderson won’t have free reign against Kidd the way he did against poor Chucky Atkins. And Kidd really has the Nets playing great right now. It will be a fun series, but Pierce and Walker will have to play fantastically and the Celtic defense will have to shine for them to have a chance.

It’s been much noted that the Celtics played two old-time rivals in the Sixers and the Pistons in their first two series. Now they are back in the conference finals for the first time since 1988 and it’s against a team that has never, ever been to a conference finals. Even the Kings have been to one, back in 1981.

The Lakers-Kings series should be excellent, and in all honesty is the true NBA Finals, though it won’t get that billing. The Lakers will win, of course, unless Shaq’s injuries make it impossible for him to play. He’s obviously a lot less than 100 percent now, and Kobe is carrying the burden. But as long as he has a presence and can contribute his 20 points, the Lakers should win in five. It would be interesting to see it go seven games, though, with those Sacramento cowbells and all.

The Lakers haven’t won a game seven since their victory over Portland in the 2000 playoffs. That was a long time ago, and Shaq was healthy then. We’ll see.

Oh, but back to Beantown. The Red Sox were stung by Manny Ramirez’ injury, but the good news is that his finger won’t require surgery. The Red Sox were showing what kind of firepower they could put together with a healthy lineup this year. But it seems like they’re <a href=”rolling right along without Ramirez.

Shea Hillenbrand and Brian Daubach, among others, are making up the difference. And actually having starting pitching besides Pedro Martinez is nice. This story discusses the contributions of Derek Lowe and John Burkett thus far. Lowe, in particular, has been Pedro-like. He is now 6-1 with a league-leading 2.16 ERA. Amazing.

Is it only a matter of time before the Red Sox are pulled back to Earth? It’s a question the Cubs wish they could be asking of themselves. Instead, they’re asking why every attempt to dig themselves out of the hole they’re in only seems to deepen the hole.