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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Not Dead Yet: Pistons Rediscover "Dee-troit Basketball," Force Game Six Versus Heat

When Pat Riley's Showtime Lakers were going for a third straight championship, he trademarked the phrase "Threepeat." Has anyone from the Pistons organization trademarked "If it ain't rough, it ain't right"? Grammarians everywhere will cringe, but someone could generate some real merchandising revenue if the Pistons can come up with a few more performances like Wednesday night's. Down 3-1 to the Miami Heat, with Heat owner Mickey Arison talking about celebrating on Detroit's homecourt to get revenge for the Pistons' game seven win in Miami last year, Detroit defeated Miami 91-78, holding the Heat to their 2006 playoff scoring low. Tayshaun Prince had a playoff career-high 29 points and Chauncey Billups made up for his 3-12 shooting from the field by sinking all 11 of his free throws, totaling 17 points, 10 assists and only one turnover. As usual, Dwyane Wade led the Heat attack with 23 points, four assists, three rebounds and five turnovers while shooting 11-20 from the field--a good night for most players, but his worst game of the series. Shaquille O'Neal had 19 points, six rebounds, three blocked shots and no assists (his fourth straight game without an assist), with 9-15 accuracy from the field and 1-5 (in)accuracy from the free throw line. The rest of the Heat shot 14-42 from the field. The Heat committed 14 turnovers and shot 6-20 on free throws.

It was not artistic--Detroit wins rarely are--but Pistons' fans, who want to believe even more than the X-Files' Fox Mulder, surely appreciated the energy, effort and enthusiasm that the Pistons displayed. The play of the game happened with 8:28 left in the third quarter. Shaquille O'Neal went up for a power dunk but Ben Wallace flew in out of nowhere, stuffing O'Neal's shot and forcing a jump ball. Wallace won the tip and Detroit scored on Prince's lefty runner for a 57-51 lead. Detroit led 73-65 going into the fourth quarter.

The final period will not be appearing on ESPN Classic anytime soon. Wade and O'Neal combined for all 13 of the Heat's points. Antonio McDyess had eight of Detroit's 18 points, capping off an evening in which he shot 5-5 from the field and grabbed six rebounds in only 19 minutes of action. Prince scored five points, including a huge basket with 4:28 left in regulation after O'Neal blocked Rip Hamilton's shot. The ball bounced out to Prince with the shot clock running out and he coolly nailed a three pointer to put Detroit up 82-76.

I picked Detroit at the start of the series but after Detroit's lackluster game four I thought that the Pistons were in big trouble. They are not out of the woods yet but, on the other hand, they are now one road win away from forcing a game seven in Auburn Hills; it is safe to say that both teams will be feeling some pressure in the next game. As I mentioned in my post after game four (Misfiring Pistons are on the Brink of Elimination), these teams are flawed compared to some of the champions of years past, so it will be interesting to see how the players--and coaches--respond.

The Pistons have eliminated O'Neal's teams from the playoffs the last two years, so they know how to defend against him without allowing his teammates to go off for big performances. The question is whether the Pistons will have the focus and discipline to author two more games like Wednesday's. They need to stop complaining about their coach and stop barking at the referees and just play ball. ESPN's Chris Berman used to call Detroit Lions Coach Wayne Fontes "Rasputin," because just when it seemed that he was about to get fired the Lions would go on a winning streak and preserve his job. If the Pistons come back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat Miami in this series, call them Detroit's new Rasputin.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:43 PM


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