The Celtics played a solid stretch without their superstars and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in 14 years with a 90-81 victory over Pistons.
The third-seeded Celtics closed out the Pistons in five games and became the first lower seed to win a series in the 2002 playoffs. They await the winner of the conference semifinal between New Jersey and Charlotte.
"I'm happy for my team, for the franchise and for the city of Boston," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said. "It is great to be playing for the Eastern Conference championship."
Walker and Pierce each picked up their fifth fouls within two minutes of each other early in the fourth quarter. As Walker joined Pierce on the bench with 9:14 to go, Boston was clinging to a 66-65 lead.
But with point guard Kenny Anderson running the offense, the Celtics actually built their lead without their two best players. The duo returned with 4 1/2 minutes left and Boston holding a 77-73 advantage.
"For that seven minutes that we were on the bench, every guy on the team made a commitment to win this game, and Kenny was the leader," Walker said. "He's the most consistent player on this team -- he always has been -- and we knew he was going to be able to do it for us. I'm very proud of the way that we showed the world that this team is more than me and Paul."
"This is a team -- it isn't just me and Antoine," Pierce said. "I was in foul trouble, and Antoine didn't play up to his potential tonight, but the guys stepped up. Everyone was a presence out there."
Pierce scored Boston's next seven points to widen the lead to 84-75 before Walker fouled out with 2:20 left. By that time, the Pistons had squandered their opportunity to extend the series. Anderson added another jumper and finished with 17 points and six assists.
"With Paul and Antoine in foul trouble all night, I told Kenny that it was his night," O'Brien said. "He's probably going to need some ice for his shooting elbow, but we needed him and he stepped it up for us."
"I just played. I wanted to play hard," Anderson said. "I wanted to get through to the Eastern Conference finals. I just tried to keep focused. This is how I've been playing all year, just trying to get us in the flow of things and let Antoine and Paul take us home. When they need me, hey, I'm right there. I've been coming through when I have to."
Pierce scored 18 points and Walker added 16 and 13 rebounds for Boston, which is in the conference finals for the first time since losing to Detroit in 1988. It has not reached the NBA Finals since 1987 and won the last of its 16 championships in 1986.
"I think right now we have an opportunity of a lifetime and we have to take full advantage of it," Walker said. "Being in the Eastern Conference finals is going to be huge for us."
"The Celtics just played extremely well," Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. "They've got a great chance to go all the way to the Finals and play for the championship."
Rodney Rogers scored 14 points and Tony Battie added 10 and nine rebounds for Boston, which shot 47 percent (34-of-73). Both had key baskets with Pierce and Walker off the floor.
Chucky Atkins emerged from a series-long slump to score 22 points for the second-seeded Pistons, whose best season in more than 10 years ended with four straight losses.
"We had a great season but we have to keep working to get to the next level," Atkins said. "I think this is just the beginning for this franchise as far as the building process. I think we add a piece each year like we did last year, and see what we come up with next year."
Detroit won 50 games, the Central Division title for the first time since 1990 and a playoff series since 1991 but had huge problems getting their offense untracked. They scored more than 85 points just once in the series, repeatedly firing away from long range.
"The playoffs are like advanced citizenship -- you find out a lot about yourselves and your team, especially after the first round," Carlisle said. "In this situation, it becomes excruciatingly tough to score, so it becomes a test of patience and of wills. Tonight, Boston was simply better at that.
"We had some good looks in these four games, but Boston took away the great looks and the easy baskets. Without those, it is very hard to get points in the playoffs."
Star guard Jerry Stackhouse scored just eight points on 3-of-18 shooting and Cliff Robinson had just four on 2-of-10 from the field. Detroit shot 36 percent (29-of-81), making 8-of-27 3-pointers.
"It's a tough thing to swallow for me because scoring has been something I've hung my hat on," Stackhouse said.
"It didn't seem like there was a single possession in the last four games where our guys didn't give their all," O'Brien said. "We made them struggle for a shot every time, and that tires a team."
The Celtics took control with an 8-0 run to close the third quarter and open a 64-55 lead. Williamson opened the final period by scoring eight of Detroit's first 10 points as Pierce and Walker picked up their fifth fouls.
Anderson made a jumper for a 68-65 lead, but Michael Curry answered for Detroit. Jon Barry rebounded a miss by Boston, but Anderson picked his pocket in the backcourt and went in for a layup and a 70-67 lead with 7:31 remaining.
"This felt like when I had the ball and I had to make something happen," Anderson said. "Once again, it was like 'Kenny, take us there.' And I came up big. It's a blessing.
"I can be the hero or the goat. It could have been the other way around. But I would accept it. I'm a competitor. I want to be in those type of situations."
After a dunk by Ben Wallace, Rogers drilled a 3-pointer. Anderson made a jumper for a 75-70 lead with 5:35 to play and Battie hit an 18-footer between three free throws by Williamson before Pierce and Walker returned with 4:07 to go.
Pierce immediately scored on a pretty reverse layup and answered Williamson's basket with two free throws, making it 81-75 with 3:11 left. On the next possession, he drew a foul as he sank a 15-footer. The Pistons got no closer than seven points thereafter.
"I just wanted to get back in there," Pierce said. "I was confident that if the guys could keep it close while Antoine and I were out, we would win the game. They did better than that; I'm very proud of them."
Williamson scored 15 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter and Curry added 15 points for the Pistons. Ben Wallace had 16 rebounds and four blocks.
Detroit got an offensive boost from Atkins, who scored just 18 points in the first four games of the series and gave away minutes at point guard to reserve Damon Jones. He scored 15 points in the first half.
"I don't think our point guards were as aggressive as we should have been," Atkins said. "I thought tonight we were more aggressive. It's a learning process for everyone on this team."
Despite Atkins' outburst, the Celtics led 24-21 after one quarter and 34-25 on a hook by Walker with 8:33 left in the second quarter. But Pierce sat down with his third foul just over a minute later and the Pistons pecked their way back, taking a 46-45 halftime lead.
Detroit managed just 10 points in the third quarter. Boston took the lead for good at 51-50 on a basket by Eric Williams with 5 1/2 minutes to go.
"You can't score 10 points in any quarter in the playoffs," Atkins said. "Every mishap you have is a plus for the other team. It makes it hard for us to win."