The Closer: Detroit Sweeps OrlandoThe Detroit Pistons became the first team to punch their ticket to the second round of the playoffs, sweeping the Orlando Magic by winning game four, 97-93. All five Pistons starters scored in double figures, a recurring theme in this series; according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Pistons are the first team in 10 years to have all five starters score in double figures in four straight playoff games. Chauncey Billups led the way with 25 points, adding six assists and four rebounds. Dwight Howard had his best game of the series by far--29 points, 17 rebounds--but his Magic crumbled down the stretch, ruining any chance of extending the series by at least one game.
This is Detroit's first series sweep since the "Bad Boys" swept the Pacers 3-0 in the first round in 1990 and the win improved the Pistons' record to 12-1 in closeout games since 2003; the only blemish is a game seven loss to the Spurs in the 2005 NBA Finals. On the surface, this is all quite impressive--until you consider that the Magic had the worst record of the 16 playoff teams and yet they were able to stay within eight points in three of the four games. TNT's Steve Kerr said during game four that Detroit does not respect Orlando and that the Pistons feel like they can simply turn it on in the fourth quarter. Granted, that is exactly what happened--Orlando led 85-80 with 3:18 remaining before being outscored 17-8 down the stretch--but what does that say about the Pistons' mindset for the playoffs? Orlando outscored Detroit 56-26 in the paint--where have you gone, Ben Wallace?--and led by as many as 10 points during game four. Detroit will likely face Ben Wallace and the Chicago Bulls in the second round and the philosophy of coasting for 45 minutes before turning it on in the last three will not work against a team that is as energetic as the Bulls are.
A couple snapshots from this series stick out in my mind: (1) Rasheed Wallace angrily waving off Coach Flip Saunders when Saunders tried to substitute for him in game three. Sheed eventually came out of the game, blasting Saunders with a string of profanities as he walked past Saunders and took a seat on the bench; (2) Chauncey Billups ignoring Saunders' timeout signal early in game four, driving to the hoop and turning the ball over, resulting in an Orlando fast break hoop. Is it just me or does Saunders not exactly seem to be in total command at times? Ben Wallace questioned Saunders' lack of emphasis on defense last year, which no doubt played a role in Detroit declining to keep the four-time Defensive Player of the Year. You don't exactly have to be the Wizard of Westwood to guide a veteran team that has multiple All-Stars past the worst squad in the playoffs. A matchup with the Bulls, who seem to be on the verge of a sweep of their own against the defending champions, will be significantly more challenging.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:33 AM