Pistons' soft effort on road hard to take

June 17, 2005|By David Steele

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The order of events for recognizing the Detroit Pistons' second consecutive NBA championship is as follows: spirited but restrained street celebration; parade through downtown; settling of fraud claims against the team by NBA fans everywhere.

We wuz robbed. Who were those imposters who showed up in San Antonio for the first two games of the Finals? Don't sit there and tell everybody that the defending champions, the team that gutted it out in a seventh game on the road to earn its Finals berth, is the same group that walked around SBC Center in a stupor for 96 minutes last week.

And don't tell me those softies, those whiners in the road uniforms last week are the same guys who jumped down the Spurs' throats for two games in the Palace of Auburn Hills. If they are, they cheated the basketball world out of a decent series and made their league look bad in front of everybody. The Pistons have made a 52-point turnaround, from losing Game 2 by 21 to winning Game 4 by 31.

Explain yourselves.

"I don't think we gave ourselves a chance in the way we started out and the way we played in those games," said Chauncey Billups, the only Piston who didn't need to hide his face after those first two games. "Coming home to our fans in our building, there would be so much more energy. ... You wouldn't think the last two games would go like that, but you wouldn't think the first two games would go like that."

No, we wouldn't. But why? You could have saved us all the ink and electricity wasted anointing the Spurs the next dynasty, while portraying the NBA as a league dying almost as fast as the NHL.

This is on you, Pistons. The Spurs can't be blamed for this, not completely. In games 1 and 2 the Spurs were playing against a glorified pickup squad, a scout team, a group that acted as if they'd just met each other on the way to the court. They played pretty much the same in the next two, or at least tried to. The Pistons themselves have been the ones dictating the course of this series.

The list of missing persons for Detroit in San Antonio encompasses almost the entire roster. They all reappeared this week. Tayshaun Prince was all over the place last night, stroking that jumper and slicing to the basket in the manner that made him one of the NBA's most unsung players. Rip Hamilton took a breather from griping about how Bruce Bowen was bending the rules against him, to actually play his own game, neutralize Bowen's defensive prowess and score easily.

Ben Wallace at least had an excuse; details only recently surfaced of myriad personal issues haunting him in recent weeks, including an emergency operation on his 2-year-old son and the death of a close friend back in his hometown. It also surfaced this week that his wife, Chanda, delivered a few verbal kicks in his pants after his lackluster play in San Antonio, and since then he's done all the kicking, directed mainly at Tim Duncan.

And let's not even get into where Antonio McDyess and Lindsey Hunter, the two only truly dependable Pistons reserves, were hiding last week. When the Pistons stomped the Spurs 28-19 in the second quarter last night and all but assured a return trip to San Antonio, it was McDyess and Hunter in the middle of it all.

Crediting the home court would brand the Pistons - a team that, again, got here by beating the Heat in Miami in Game 7 of the East finals - as weak. That makes no sense.

Larry Brown's reasoning? Well he prefaced it by admitting, "No, I really can't explain that." But, he continued, "All the things that needed to be done in Game 1 and 2 in San Antonio, they did. Their physical play, their defensive play, their execution, their intensity - they just had us back on our heels, and we did the same thing in these two games."

The temptation is to call this a Spurs choke, reminiscent of their fold-up in last year's West semifinal against the Los Angeles Lakers after jumping ahead 2-0 at home. But those Lakers were infinitely more competitive in those two losses than these Pistons were this year. They looked ready to go home and settle for having survived the East.

It's also tempting to praise the Pistons for rallying back. Fight that temptation. They almost ruined this series with that start, and for much of the country that tuned out three-quarters of the way through Game 1, it was ruined.

Tied at two games each, this is a whole new series. Maybe the world champs will show up for all of this one.

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