First things first: The 3-pointer ending the third period of Detroit's 100-93 win at the Palace should not have counted.
Chauncey Billups took the inbound pass with 5.1 seconds left and started upcourt. After passing to Rodney Stuckey and getting it back, Billups launched a 3-pointer that went.
Problem is, the clock started and stopped at 4.8 seconds.
Without the benefit of instant replay (and something MUST be done), the officials gathered and conferenced endlessly on the issue. They decided to count it. Although I replayed it on TiVo again and again, I counted five myself, and with the TNT truck running a clock in real time, came to 5.22 to get the shot off. That's a difference of .12, pretty small for human error, but alas, it is error, and the Magic should have had a lead going to the fourth, 76-75.
Momentum? The Palace was loud, sure.
The Magic made a major comeback, yet again, after being down 14 points in the second and 10 at the half. They went 7-for-7 from beyond the arc in the third after being stone cold for a game-and-a-half.
The Magic turned the ball over 19 times compared to nine for the Pistons. Detroit came up with nine steals and five blocked shots compared to three and two for Orlando. Some of those turnovers were late in the game by Rashard Lewis, who had his game going with 20 points, but shot 6-for-21 to do it. The Magic got four bench points in the game. Four.
For the record, the writer for the Magic at MVN, Brendan, is a good guy, and we are passionate about our favorite teams. I have been over at his blog running off at the mouth because I disagree with him, but that's sports. I hate to watch my favorite team lose as much as anyone.
I hate the officiating in the NBA as much as the next guy, especially the star treatment bunk. But he has on the Magic the guy who, by more than one hundred tries over the second-place player, led the league in free throw attempts, and Orlando has went to the line more than Detroit through their four regular season games and two playoff games. He is convinced the Magic are fouled by Detroit every time down and the Pistons are a "big-market club who gets whistles."
Detroit? The Pistons? It's so wrong I can't fathom the thought. The Pistons are no darlings to any officiating crew. If they were, would Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton get the technicals they get? All the years of battling Bird and the Celtics, Jordan and the Bulls, Wade and the Heat, and now LeBron and the Cavaliers, the Bad Boys era, and even now, the Pistons have never gotten the benefit of the officials.
We know, as Pistons fans, the continuous uphill climb, time and time again, having to fight through the stigma of Detroit not being "Finals Friendly" because of the NBA ratings on television. New flash: The ratings haven't been great since the Magic-Bird-Jordan era, and not good enough even then.
But to pick apart each and every possession and convey the Pistons foul every time, Dwight Howard never does, the reason the Magic dies by the 3 just as they were living by it, and that Chauncey Billups is in the class of Kobe and LeBron when getting the whistle, is off base to say the least.
Back to the game. The Pistons hit 13 straight free throws down the stretch and Chauncey Billups scored 28 points for the game. Rip Hamilton hit a big three late in the game after missing seven straight shots and struggled at 4-for-18 for the game. Wallace and Tayshaun Prince picked up the slack with 17 apiece, Prince adding a team-high 10 rebounds.
Jason Maxiell continued to shoot the ball well from the outside, going 5-for-5 and scoring 11 points, further solidifying his starting spot. The rookie guards, Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo, both played effective extended minutes in the third and allowed Chauncey and Rip to get some pine time.
The Magic are formidable, no question. They won their division and have tough players at every position. The playoff experience is what they seem to be lacking.
Dwight Howard came off a mediocre Game 1 and had 22 points and 18 rebounds (eight offensive), but got slapped with a technical early after a foul. Why? He's their leader, and it was a wrong thing to do. But it was his five turnovers, Hedu Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis' six apiece that sank them. Lewis had 10 more shot attempts than both, and, while hot in the third, faded in the fourth.
Jameer Nelson equaled things out in his matchup with Billups, hitting 5-of-8 from 3-point land and scoring 22 points before fouling out. Former Piston Maurice Evans fared a little better, scoring 13 and going 5-for-7, as well. He did a much better job on Hamilton and, outside of taking the low road on the screen that allowed Rip to hit a trey, he fought through the screens and defended much better.
The series switches to Orlando for Games 3 and 4. It will be interesting to see how the officiating is spun on the Magic's home floor and if Detroit will even need the benefit of a charitable call. I don't foresee a sweep, and things just get more interesting from here on out.