Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Welcome back, boys

"I think we finally figured out how hard we have to play." -- Pistons coach Larry Brown

Finally, our Detroit Pistons - the defending NBA champions - decided to show up in this series. Watching last night's game was definitely fun, but I couldn't shake this constant tapping on my shoulder which was saying, "Where the hell has this team been?" 96-79 was the final score. The Pistons who tried to squeeze water from rocks in San Antonio to rack up 80 points almost scored 100.

So what was the difference last night? How could the Pistons look so damn inept in San Antonio, yet play like champions in Detroit? Does the home-court advantage make that much of a difference? Apparently so. Especially when the referees give Detroit every call they gave to the Spurs in San Antonio. I hate to buy into that; the Pistons have spent too much of this playoff run carping to the refs instead of just playing basketball. And usually, blaming the referees is just an excuse. As a sports talk radio host once said, just score more points. Don't leave it up to the refs.

But when you see the fouls that were called against the Spurs, and the defense Detroit was allowed to play last night, how can you not at least raise the question? How the referees call a game shouldn't decide a championship series. But it looks like that's how it's going to play out, and the Pistons need to adjust their game accordingly.

"We're back on bad boy soil now." -- Rasheed Wallace

However, the biggest reason Detroit may have won the game was that Big Ben Wallace unfurled his sweet 'fro and finally played with the energy and desire we all expect from him. Ben set the tone at the very beginning of the game, stealing an inbounds pass and running down the court for an uncontested dunk. That's a play no Piston made in San Antonio. Right away, you knew this game was going to be different.

Robin Buckson/The Detroit News

And Ben didn't stop there. He blocked five shots in the first quarter. Typically, a player blocks one or two shots in a game. Later, Ben made what was probably the most exciting play of the game, catching a high lob pass from Richard Hamilton and dunking it backwards. That even brought Eminem out of his seat, waving a towel.

(Here's more on Ben from Terry Foster's blog and Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press.)

Everything that went wrong in San Antonio went right in Detroit. Rip Hamilton scored 24 points. Rasheed Wallace stopped settling for mid-range jumpers and three-pointers, and instead took the ball aggressively to the basket, forcing the Spurs to defend him. Also playing aggressively was Tayshaun Prince, who took the ball to the basket and got in the face of Manu Ginobili. (Ginobili, by the way, only scored seven points. This was the same guy who looked unstoppable in the first two games of the series.) And when a Spurs player took the ball to the basket, a Piston defender made him pay the price. Did you see that arm Tony Parker took to the forehead? Not a dirty play - the contact looked incidental, at least to me - but it made Frenchie think before driving to the basket again. The old Bad Boys would be proud.

Now, Detroit looks like a team that will not only compete in the series, but could actually come back to win it. Is that a little reactionary? Sure, but hey, that's the nature of the sports fan. When our teams lose badly, they suck and they're terrible. When they win definitively, they're the greatest and we love 'em. It would still be disappointing if the Pistons lose this series to the Spurs, and they're still down two games to one. Detroit needs to win one more game just to give themselves a chance to take the series back to San Antonio. But at least they showed some pride and willingness to compete. They're not going down without a fight, and that's all we Pistons fans ever wanted.