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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Detroit and Minnesota Work Overtime--Twice--Before Pistons Prevail

The Detroit Pistons needed two overtimes--and the ejection of the rebounding machine known as Kevin Garnett--to escape from Minnesota with a 104-98 win. Richard Hamilton led the Pistons with 26 points, adding seven rebounds (including four on the offensive glass) and five assists. Chauncey Billups had 25 points and eight assists; he scored 16 of Detroit's 26 fourth quarter points. Chris Webber contributed 16 points (8-12 field goal shooting), seven rebounds and four assists in his first start with his new team. Mark Blount led Minnesota with 22 points and he also had 15 rebounds. Garnett had a game-high 19 rebounds but shot just 4-13 from the field, finishing with 14 points. He was ejected in the fourth quarter after an altercation with reserve forward Antonio McDyess, who was also thrown out of the game. Garnett had more rebounds than Detroit's five starters at the time he was tossed.

Webber got off to a good start, making three of his first four shots and dishing two assists in the first six minutes as the teams played to a 12-12 standoff. Minnesota had a 21-20 lead at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, aliens from outer space used a force field to prevent the ball from going into the hoop. OK, you come up with a better explanation for Minnesota scoring four points and Detroit scoring two points in more than four minutes of "action." Neither team produced a point between the 10:16 and 8:14 marks. When you look at the play by play sheet you can actually hear crickets chirping and see tumbleweeds blowing as if you are watching a camera pan over a ghost town. Eventually, the teams started trading baskets and by the end of the quarter they almost matched the first quarter's output. The game was tied at 39 at halftime after Garnett hit a jumper just before time expired, only his second field goal of the half.

The third quarter was a lot like the second quarter. Minnesota hit a couple free throws to take the lead, then Tayshaun Prince tied the game with a jumper at the 11:06 mark. Then the aliens returned and no one scored until Hamilton's runner with 8:57 left in the period. Minnesota's offense was so horrible that when the Timberwolves took a 52-51 lead on Blount's layup with 3:26 left, ESPN's Tom Tolbert joked, "That's been their best play--an offensive rebound by Garnett and a feed to Blount." Minnesota led 58-53 by the end of the third period.

The Timberwolves pushed their advantage to 61-53 early in the fourth quarter but then Billups decided to participate in the proceedings, scoring 10 points in three minutes as Detroit pulled to within 67-65. Hamilton's runner tied the score at 70 with 5:18 remaining. That is when Garnett decided to prove how tough he is and probably cost his team the game. While Hamilton's shot was dropping through the hoop, McDyess delivered a forearm to Mark Madsen's sternum. Garnett pushed McDyess in the back to express his disapproval and when McDyess wheeled around, Garnett--clearly trained in the Carmelo Anthony fighting school--threw the ball at McDyess, hitting him in the chest, put up his fists like he was ready for anything and then backpedalled so fast you would have sworn he was wearing roller skates. Supposedly, this shows how much he was "standing up" for Madsen. In reality, it led to his ejection (and a possible suspension if the NBA decides that he threw a punch) with nearly half of the fourth quarter remaining to be played in a tie game. Do great players sometimes throw punches/get ejected? Yes, of course, but they don't usually do it late in a tie game. When the knucklehead from the San Diego Chargers headbutted a New England Patriot, the Patriot in question did not feel compelled to throw a punch and then run away like a school girl. He just stood there and kept his composure as the officials called the penalty. Yes, it's an emotional game, but that does not mean that you have to take complete leave of your senses. The McDyess-Madsen incident was not that severe and it was already over; Madsen did not need to be defended and, if he did, there is always an opportunity to deliver a hard foul later in the game and to do it in a way that you don't get ejected. As McDyess aptly put it after the game, "I know they can win without me. I don't think they can win without K.G."

Detroit took a brief 76-73 lead but rookie Randy Foye made a layup and assisted on two other baskets down the stretch as Minnesota caught up and forced the game into overtime. Fittingly, neither team scored in the last 1:16 of regulation after Hamilton's jumper tied the game at 79.

Foye scored nine points in the first overtime and Mike James hit a miracle three pointer with the shot clock running down to give Minnesota an 89-86 lead with 13.8 seconds left. Wallace missed a three pointer but--with Garnett in the locker room--Hamilton, not a noted rebounder, grabbed the offensive board and brought Detroit to within 89-88. Foye made two free throws and Detroit had one last chance with 5.5 seconds left. Inexplicably, Minnesota neither committed a foul nor did they guard the three point line; the Timberwolves made sure that they did not give up two points and instead presented Billups with a wide open three pointer from the top of the key, which he drained to tie the game at 91.

Wallace opened the second overtime with a baseline jumper and Detroit never looked back, outscoring Minnesota 13-7. Wallace scored six of the 13 points and Minnesota did not make a field goal until more than four minutes had passed.

***Notes***

The Timberwolves were actually missing their top two scorers down the stretch. When Minnesota Coach Dwane Casey took Ricky Davis out of the game in the third quarter, Davis headed straight to the locker room. Eventually, he returned to the bench; player and coach both later claimed that Davis simply had to use the bathroom but Casey never put him back in the game, which understandably attracts attention considering that Davis is the team's second leading scorer--and the team's leading scorer was ejected just past the midway point of the fourth quarter of a game that eventually went into double overtime.

******

Before the game, ESPN's Shootaround crew voiced their opinions about the Webber signing and the state of the Pistons in general. Greg Anthony, Tim Legler and Stephen A. Smith painted a bleak overall picture, noting that Rasheed Wallace is leading the league in technical fouls, Nazr Mohammed--the ostensible replacement for Ben Wallace--has been invisible and the players, while they like Flip Saunders as a person, do not have confidence in his coaching and are gradually tuning him out.

All of that should sound familiar to regular 20 Second Timeout readers, since I have repeatedly said that the Pistons have been heading in reverse ever since Larry Brown and Ben Wallace departed. Rasheed Wallace was a perfect fit when Brown and Big Ben were there to keep him in line but Sheed has no interest in being anything more than a complementary player (which is a shame considering his tremendous skill level); the more that is asked from him, the less he will deliver (other than emotional outbursts, which will increase in direct proportion to his and the team's diminishing success). The idea that Mohammed could replace Ben Wallace's defense and rebounding with his allegedly superior offense is, quite simply, absurd. Ben Wallace is a better offensive player than Mohammed--a better passer, a better offensive rebounder and a better screener; there is more to playing offense than just scoring, not that Mohammed is such a great scorer anyway. Webber has basically fallen into Detroit's lap and Joe Dumars is surely hoping and praying that C. Webb plays well enough that observers don't focus on how foolish it was to replace Big Ben with Negligible Nazr.

As for Webber's possible impact, the Shootaround guys gave mixed reviews. Anthony believes that Webber can help Detroit to make the Finals. Smith, a Philadelphia writer who got a front row view of Webber during his time with the Sixers, declared, "I just don't see it when it comes to Chris Webber. He can't run and he can't jump." While everyone agrees that Webber's passing skills will help Detroit offensively, Smith noted that Webber is "virtually hopeless" on defense. That, of course, is the real problem. The Pistons won a championship as a hard nosed defensive team, using Larry Brown's system, which was anchored around Ben Wallace's energy, tenacity, rebounding and shot blocking. Now Brown and Wallace are gone and the Pistons are trying to win with offense. Webber will without question help the offense with his passing--and he will score more than Mohammed did--but there is no way that the Pistons will have the same playoff success as an offensive minded team as they did when they were a defensive minded team. If the Phoenix Suns can't win a title with offense, this Pistons team--which needed two extra sessions to crack 100 points against a mediocre Minnesota team--surely will not do so either.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:21 AM

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