Boston got past one nemesis to set up a matchup with another old rival.

Paul Pierce scored 27 points, Ray Allen had 17 and Kevin Garnett added 16 to lift the Celtics to an 89-81 victory over the Detroit Pistons last night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final at Auburn Hills, Mich.

Boston, which locked up with Detroit many times in the 1980s, will now rekindle another classic series in the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Pistons were eliminated on their homecourt for the first time during a 6-year run that included a trip to the conference finals each year and the 2004 NBA title.

Boston entered the series without a road win in the postseason, then beat Detroit on its homecourt twice to win the grueling series.

Chauncey Billups scored a playoff-high 29 points and Richard Hamilton had 21, but the rest of their Detroit teammates had lackluster efforts, especially Rasheed Wallace, who scored just four points on 2-of-12 shooting and had three turnovers in what might've been his last game as a Piston, and could've been Flip Saunders' last as Detroit's coach.

After the game was tied, 58-58, Detroit closed the third quarter with a 10-2 run and took its first lead since midway through the opening period. Just when it seemed the Pistons might be in control with a 70-60 lead early in the fourth, the Celtics scored nine points in less than 2 minutes and went on a 19-4 run that put them ahead 79-74.

The Pistons failed on their three-pointers down the stretch and couldn't take advantage of Garnett missing two free throws with 36 seconds left.


* Doug Collins' second tenure as Chicago Bulls coach may be coming, but there was no announcement as of last night.

The Bulls and Collins, who coached a young Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen before the 1990s dynasty took off, acknowledged Thursday discussing a return engagement. The sides also said there would be more talks once Collins' obligations with TNT ended, which happened when the Los Angeles Lakers eliminated the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals that night.

And Collins was adamant during a pregame interview with TNT: "I have not been offered. I have not accepted."

Bulls general manager John Paxson did not return a call to his cell phone yesterday, and Collins' representative John Langel declined comment.

The Bulls have had a vacancy since interim coach Jim Boylan was fired at the end of a disappointing 33-49 season. Boylan replaced Scott Skiles in December after Chicago got off to a slow start following three straight playoff appearances. *