Detroit Dominates Again, Takes 2-0 Lead Over ChicagoThough the score was closer, in many ways the Detroit Pistons' 108-87 Game Two victory over Chicago Bulls was even more impressive than their Game One win. The Bulls presumably made adjustments both strategically and in terms of their attitude and yet they were once again in trouble from the beginning, falling behind 8-0, trailing by as much as 24 and never getting closer than 13 in the second half. The Pistons shot .526 from the field and held the Bulls to .343 shooting, a number that would only look good in Chicago if it belonged to the White Sox or Cubs. Detroit outrebounded Chicago 51-30. Tayshaun Prince had 25 points and seven rebounds for the Pistons, leading a very balanced attack: Richard Hamilton contributed 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists, Chris Webber had 22 points (on 10-11 shooting) and seven rebounds and Rasheed Wallace added 10 points (on 4-4 shooting) and seven rebounds in 18 foul-plagued minutes. The "worst" performer among the Pistons' starters was Chauncey Billups, who shot just 4-11 but still ended up with 14 points and 10 assists. Most of the Bulls looked outmatched and overwhelmed and only two of them played well: Ben Wallace had 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots but often seemed to be battling all by himself on the boards; Tyrus Thomas led Chicago with 18 points in 22 minutes.
The story of this game was pretty much the same script that played out in game one, except for Billups taking more of a supporting role and Prince being the lead actor. Detroit jumped on top early, the Bulls made a couple of half-hearted runs and the Pistons stepped on the gas and pulled away. There is some precedent for a 2-0 series to eventually become competitive: Detroit took a 2-0 lead versus Cleveland last year and then lost three straight before prevailing in seven games; Chicago took a 2-0 lead over the Washington Wizards in 2005 but lost the series in six games. We just saw Houston blow a 2-0 lead over Utah. So the issue is not whether it is possible to overcome a 2-0 deficit--clearly, it is very possible; the issue is whether or not the Bulls' players can make the necessary adjustments to perform better in Game Three.
The bright spots so far for Chicago have been the energy and hustle shown by Wallace in both games and by Thomas in Game Two; also, the Bulls were able to get into the paint at will in Game One, which is why Detroit played more zone defense in Game Two. If Detroit stays in the zone, then Chicago must continue to attack in the paint first (as TNT's Doug Collins mentioned during the telecast) and only then shoot jump shots after making the defense compress. If Detroit goes back to the man to man then Chicago must drive to the hoop AND finish. Getting to the hoop has not been a problem but the Bulls have then committed silly turnovers or thrown up wild shots. Detroit deserves credit for putting pressure on Chicago but the Bulls are capable of playing a lot better than they have so far. Speaking of pressure, the Bulls should apply more backcourt pressure against the Pistons to force Detroit to run down the shot clock and to break the rhythm of their offense. Sitting back and waiting for Detroit to smoothly pick apart the Bulls' halfcourt defense is not working. Bench players perform better at home then on the road, so it is certainly possible for Chicago to at least get this series to 2-2 heading to Detroit for Game Five. However, I am less confident about that possibility now than I was after Game One because Chicago showed little progress in Game Two and there is certainly a lot of ground to make up in order for these games to be competitive.
Many people have said that this series is a referendum of sorts on the Ben Wallace deal; I certainly am in that camp as well. The way that this series is playing out right now, though, it is possible to argue that both teams were right: Chicago has clearly improved as a result of acquiring Wallace, winning more games and then sweeping Miami in the first round; meanwhile, Detroit, after a bumpy start, acquired Chris Webber, who has fit in very well with Coach Flip Saunders' offensive and defensive philosophies. I think that Detroit would have taken a big step back if Webber had not basically fallen into their laps but that is a hypothetical situation. The reality is that Joe Dumars signed Webber and the result is that the Pistons are playing the best that they have played since they won the championship in 2004. Wallace is not having a bad series against his old team but his efforts are being made irrelevant due to the total disappearance of the Bulls' other key players: Kirk Hinrich shot 0-7, Ben Gordon shot 3-7, Luol Deng shot 4-12.
I was stunned to look at the boxscore after the game and see that Detroit committed 21 turnovers while Chicago had 13. Watching the game it seemed like the Bulls were handling the ball with all of the dexterity of a quintet of Edward Scissorhands clones. The Bulls have one more chance to shoot better, handle the ball with more precision and try to knock the Pistons out of their offensive comfort zone, because no NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:14 AM