Saturday night's alright for fighting, and we almost saw one in the latter stages of Detroit's game one 91-72 playoff win at the Palace.
A frustrated Rashard Lewis, mirroring the entire Magic squad, nearly threw Theo Ratliff to the floor, which caused tempers to flare in the midst of another dominant Piston second half to close out a victory.
Pair that incident with a double-foul (Antonio McDyess, Dwight Howard), which led to double technical fouls (Rasheed Wallace, Hedo Turkoglu) in the first half. You can see already where this series is headed.
Lewis was hit with a foul and a technical foul. The fouls seemed to sum up a Magic effort that fell short of their regular-season performance and decisive momentum gained in their first round win over the Toronto Raptors.
After playing Detroit very tough in the first half, the teams tied at 22 after one and down merely a point at 44-43 at the half. But the Pistons made the defensive adjustments at the half and took Dwight Howard and the rest of the Magic out of their rhythm and their offense.
Detroit dominated the second half 48-30 by stepping up their game on both ends. Gone were the careless turnovers (okay, not entirely) as the Pistons went over 21 minutes of the third and fourth quarters after having five in the first half.
They forced the Magic into three critical miscues in the third when it was a four point game and turned it into a ten point game and they turned it up from there.
It was the Piston guards who once again set the tone for the offense in outscoring the Magic backcourt 24-8 in the first half. But with little help from the rest of the team, the Magic hung around. Being the best three-point shooting team in the NBA, the Magic could explode at anytime.
It didn't happen. They were 1-10 from the arc and after they took their first leads just into the third at 44-43 and 46-45 with 10:08 left, the Pistons came out and put them away.
A 21-3 run by Detroit and tenacious defense on Howard, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds and obvious goaltending calls that looked as if he had given up, opened up some breathing room and caused the Magic to press.
While they closed out the third period with a 9-1 run (caused by a sloppy spurt of poor offensive execution by Detroit), the lead was still seven 65-58 and the game still in the balance.
But as we saw in the Sixer series, you could see that the fourth would belong to the home team.
The stats may not show it, but the hero of this game was Jason Maxiell. Starting in place of Antonio McDyess (and I will say it again, the move should be permanent), coach Flip Saunders placed him on the athletic Howard, while Rasheed Wallace opened on Lewis, who likes to float on the outside on offense.
Outsized but not out-toughed, Max did a heck of a job in helping the team holding down the league's new Man of Steel.
But in the final quarter, it was Maxiell's offense that took over. Active both inside and out, Max scored eight consecutive Piston points and 10 of his 12 in the stanza by showing the confidence in his ever-improving jump shot, which he continually went to and converted on, including two as the period opened.
Sandwiched around Rodney Stuckey's first basket of the game and Detroit was buzzing along with the crowd. Toss in nine rebounds and three blocked shots and I'm giving Max the Player of the Game Award. A 17-4 run in the final period shut the Magic down at the Palace for game one.
You can't say enough about the team's defensive effort as the Magic are the league's sixth best scoring team at nearly 105 points per game. Hedo Turkoglu, the leagues most improved player, scored 18 along with Lewis. With Howard's 12, you have 48 points and the rest of their team scored half that many.
Orlando averaged nearly 25 three-point attempts and 10 makes during the season, yet were held to a 2-15 performance from deep. The Pistons made them put it on the floor and when they did, someone was waiting for them. They would have nothing handed to them, and they didn't help their cause by going 10-20 from the stripe.
Chauncey Billups led the Pistons with 19 points and seven assists. Rip Hamilton, averaging 19.7 in the playoffs so far, added 17 to go with six rebounds.
Tayshaun Prince had 12 points, eight boards, and five assists while Wallace again made a giant impact with little scoring with eight points, five rebounds, and three assists.
Although he shot an unimpressive 3-9 from the field, it was his 2-4 from three that opened up the lane for the bigger Detroit guards to post and drive against the smaller and weaker Magic guards.
Dwight Howard did slightly injure his thumb by banging it on Lewis' elbow while going for a rebound in the third. He sat for a spell and came back with it taped some but was ineffective. I saw both it being wrapped heavily and with nothing on it so the severity is still unknown, but I suspect that with the game in hand, there was no sense in testing it.
It will be interesting to see how he and his thumb respond Monday in game two. I would look for a tougher go of it in next game and Orlando's outside shooting to drastically improve.
Let's go Pistons, leave the switch on for us.
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