PONTIAC, Mich. -- Three seconds remained in the old champion's reign when Boston's Kevin McHale passed the crown from the Celtics to the Detroit Pistons.
'Best of luck,' McHale said Friday night to Detroit guard Isiah Thomas as he left the court with three seconds left in the Pistons' 95-90 win over the Celtics that clinched the NBA Eastern Conference title.
'Go out and get 'em,' McHale said. 'Play physical. Play tough. Those Western Conference teams don't want any part of that. Don't be just happy to be there. You're only halfway there.'
Detroit will make its first appearance in an NBA Final on Tuesday against either Los Angeles or Dallas.
The loss marks the first time in five years Boston will not be in the finals and ends the five-year coaching reign of retiring K.C. Jones.
McHale startlingly made the changing of the guard official when he stopped off to whisper first to Thomas and then in the ear of backup Detroit guard Vinnie Johnson. There is little love between the Pistons and Celtics.
'It's tough to lose,' Boston guard Danny Ainge said. 'When you lose to Detroit, that's even worse. But at the same time, we can hold our heads up. We gave it a good effort.
'Do I think Detroit's better? Yeh, I do. They've proved it. We got beat. They beat us, they flat-out beat us.'
'Isiah's the heart of their team,' McHale said. 'Vinnie is the heart of their bench. I want to beat them when we're playing, but I respect them. I wanted to wish them good luck. That was sincere.'
Detroit wore out Boston in six games. It's bench superiority finally paid off when the Celtics' were stripped of their starters.
Ainge played at least the last two games with a bad back. His running mate, Dennis Johnson, also finished with a bad back. Center Robert Parish didn't even finish, going down at 7:34 of the first quarter with a bruised left knee and giving it a game 61-second try in the second quarter.
That left it up to the Boston bench and it just wasn't equal to the task, this time by a 46-20 margin. It was the first time in the series the Celtics' bench had reach double digits.
McHale led Boston with 33 points and was the only Celtic to make more than half his shots in the six games. Bird finished 4 for 17 for 16 points while Dennis Johnson had 17.
'I've watched Bird carefully for a lot of years,' Detroit Coach Chuck Daly said. 'I've always said, if you're going to beat the Boston Celtics, you're going to have to control him at least part of the game.
'We watched a lot of film. We were always running one, two or three people at him, trying to disrupt his shot.'
Vinnie Johnson made five straight shots in a 10 for 15 night to lead Detroit with 24 points. Veteran Adrian Dantley, who will appear in his first NBA championship series, had 22 and James Edwards reached 15.
'If I was in Phoenix now,' said Edwards, acquired by the Pistons from the Suns in January, 'I'd be watching TV. When we came back from 16 down at Boston, that was the series.'
'I've always said that Game 5 is the most important game in any series when you've got the home court,' Bird said. 'You've got to win it. We didn't.'
Game 6 started slowly for Detroit but the Pistons took command when the Celtics were forced to go to their bench.
Boston led, 21-14, when its reserves surrounded Bird late in the first period and trailed, 40-33, by the time the starting five was reunited. Two trips down the floor and Parish had to retire for the remainder of the game.
'This team's always found ways to win,' McHale said. 'This time we couldn't find one.'