The Pistons and Sixers were the only game in town. Literally.
In the only playoff game in the NBA Thursday night, Detroit closed out the "Philly Cinderelly" story tonight (much to my surprise) by winning big in what was a carbon copy of game five; they got out to a substantial lead in the first quarter and the young Sixers could not dig themselves out. In watching the Pistons for 30-plus years, I have seen them go through the same ordeal. You have to learn how to win, but you have to learn what it takes to do it consistently. The Sixer team that won two games in this series was a stark contrast to the one that lost four games as you could see the confidence sucked from them. I know that sounds elementary, but their losses were so decisive that it took the shine off their wins. Tonight, the luster was completely dusted, 100-77.
It always amuses me how television dictates what the so-called experts and commentators say. When Philadelphia had a couple wins and the series was tied, Philly was young and exciting and playing like they had nothing to lose. But after games five and six, they all revert back to how much better the Pistons were and are. I agree, but after last year's meltdown against the Cleveland Cavaliers, I am not naive enough to think the Sixers couldn't have won this series. With their star, Andre Iguodala shooting HORRIBLE and turning the ball over, Philly was still effective. If their field goal shooting had held up, this series could have at least went seven. The losses demoralized them. Thaddeus Young, who was so electric in the beginning of games disappeared. Willie Green shot so well in the first couple games but then couldn't buy a basket and his offensive frustration carried over to his defense on Rip Hamilton, who struggled with his shot but found it when it counted. Reggie Evans, who was waving his index finger in the "we're number one" fashion and celebrating with the crowd fizzled from his early sizzle. Samuel Dalembert was a load and a problem in the middle early in the series, hitting the fifteen-foot jumper and blocking shots, disappeared. Andre Miller who outplayed Chauncey Billups in games one and two, became very ordinary, very quickly.
I understand the math in moving sharp-shooter Kyle Korver during the season. His big contract will come off the books and it gave the team a chance to start Young, who I think is an All-Star in two years and will be a great compliment to A.I. and Louis Williams, who needs consistency. Iguodala held up well during the season as "The Man", but seemed to buckle under the burden early in the series. I agree with the consensus, he needs to live in the gym this summer and perfect that jumper. From three, from mid-range, from everywhere. He constantly wanted a call driving to the hoop, sometimes getting it, sometimes not, but Detroit was going to let him shoot the jumper, knowing that was their best defense against him, as well as the rest of the athletic Sixers. They need a threat or two out there. They have the coach that will take them to the next level, they just need some pieces.
Detroit needs to do whatever it takes to maintain this level of play. Fact is they were suppose to be this dominant. I don't agree with the thought that Philadelphia wasn't suppose to win a game as I predicted in my series preview that they would get a couple. It is of little comfort to see Boston have all they want with Atlanta as well as LeBron and the Cavs being tested by the Bullets because the Pistons' next opponent, Orlando, has been resting up and not so long that they will be all that rusty. They are going to come out very similar to Philadelphia, raring to go and nothing to lose. Difference is, they have both an inside game with Superman, Dwight Howard, already with three 20 point-20 rebound games, and outside with Rashard Lewis and the league's most improved player Hedo Turkoglu. The guards of Detroit will have to dominate, like they did again against Philly Thursday night.
Rip Hamilton came out and hit his first five shots, including a steal and three-point play on the lay-up to open the game, and wasn't about to repeat his 1-13 through three period performance his last game in his old stomping grounds. he scored 13 in the first as Detroit got out to a 30-12 lead and finished with 24 points on 9-14 shooting. He did commit five turnovers, which he needs to get under control as he has been careless with ball when passing. Billups finished with 20 points and 7 assists while Tayshaun Prince added 12 on 5-6 from the floor (44-67 for the series, 66%), 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Rasheed Wallace would hit only two shots, both threes, but were both daggers through the Sixers' heart in the first, reminding the young counterparts of his versatility.
Rodney Stuckey had a nice game, hitting a three (he should shoot more of them), finishing with 7 points, 5 rebounds (2 offensive) and four assists and Amir Johnson finally got some time after the game was decided and scored 10 poiints and grabbed 6 caroms. Although I applaud Antonio McDyess' grit and toughness, he is not valuable as he thinks of getting hit in his broken nose and is being pushed and challenged because of it and is having an awful time with his Rip-style protective mask (forgetting to put it on in one instance coming on the floor). I love Jason Maxiell as the starter and truly believe that he should remain in the starting line-up for the foreseeable future and next season. The Pistons have enough scoring options with their Big Four while he is the electricity, toughness, and energy the team seems to lack sometimes.
With the bench shortened up so far, players like Jarvis Hayes and McDyess need to make it happen early on offense or they'll sit. Detroit still has some trouble with the press as they are much too lax in their passing against it, being nailed for 8-second and shot clock violations. They are still turning the ball over way too much, especially for the league leaders in fewest per game and points allowed off those turnovers per contest. They need to continue their hot shooting (41-2 when shooting 45+%) because of their preferred deliberate, halfcourt style, especially from three as they are averaging 14 points per game from the arc (Philly averaged 5).
The Pistons are now 12-3 in closeout games since their title in 2004. Game one of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals is Saturday in Detroit. And I am not sad to see Philadelphia go. At least if they are in Detroit Saturday, its not because of a game seven.