Not exactly a big pat on the back, but I knew it and said so. Detroit would take a step back and the Celtics stepped up.
Detroit was going to let their guard down and allow the Celtics to get one on the road at their expense. Mission accomplished.
The two teams are so similar, and that may be the problem for the Pistons. They can take athletic, high-scoring teams, and shut them down, but they will continually struggle against defensive-minded, balanced offensive teams.
Detroit must think that a win every three games is enough to keep themselves amongst the NBA's elite. If they continue to start games like this, and the health of Chauncey Billups doesn't improve, they are going to ensure their vacation will begin very soon, and the league may get what they have been clamoring for: a Boston-Los Angeles finals.
Billups claimed to be 100% at the start of this series. He played cautiously in Game One and came alive in Game Two. Problem solved, right? Not even close.
Either he is healthy enough to play, or he isn't, and it looks like he isn't. Shooting 1-6 from the field, scoring 6 points, and being a game worst -25 is not helping whatsoever. His presence is vital, I get that. He is heroic for getting out there and wanting to help his team. But is he?
What of Tayshaun Prince? He looked as if he could have used another day off himself, shooting a woeful 2-11 in scoring 4 points, and was a -23 for the game.
The Pistons are doing a lot of switching off due to the pick and roll, so he is not confined to playing Paul Pierce (11 points on a mere 6 shot attempts) solo and missed wide open looks. The closest thing Detroit has to a dynamic scorer is Rip Hamilton (26 points) and if your team relies on balance, guess what happens when you're not.
Many times during Game Three, rookie Rodney Stuckey proved to be the team's most viable offensive threat. He is proving to be the lone bright spot of this postseason and is a star in the making. He is getting to the rim when he pleases, and is learning to lean on his jump shot more and more.
While he suffered through poor shooting like the rest of the club (4-12), he put up 17 hard-earned points, and seems to be the hardest to handle for the Celts, next to Rasheed Wallace (12 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) when he devotes his game to the post.
The Pistons stunk, plain and simple. They caused some trouble for Boston in the first quarter with a 13-0 run after getting down 15-4. But they also allowed the visitors to score the final ten of the quarter and poof! Down by eight and momentum seized.
The offensive struggles, at home no less after stealing Game Two in Boston, is inexplicable. Following up the 25-17 first period with an even worse 25-15 quarter pretty much sank the ship, and the Palace fans began a smattering of boos that would be sprinkled in throughout the rest of the game.
Who can blame them? At the half, Rip had four, Billups, Antonio McDyess and Prince each had two. Jason Maxiell and Stuckey each had seven, but where were the points going to come from?
The Big Three erupted for 75 points in Game Two, and were held in check at the Palace. While they contributed 47 (Garnett 22, Pierce 11, Allen 14) to their first road win, it wasn't a case of what they weren't doing. It was how dismal Detroit was doing.
They forced five more turnovers (15-10); didn't matter. They blocked nine shots to Bostons three; didn't matter. The had eleven steals to the Celt's six; yawn. Boston hit them where it counted and when it counted. They outrebounded the Pistons 44-28, including 14-10 on the offensive end and had 20 assists to Detroit's 15. They did all the little things that grew into one big loss for the home team.
I'm not an expert, nor do I play one on the Internet, but in my opinion, the bench that the team developed during the season has gotten too short.
When the Pistons got down by as many as 24 points, where was Jarvis Hayes? Where is Juan Dixon? These are proven three-point shooters and they never saw the floor. Amir Johnson is long and athletic and yet isn't being utilized, not even for a few spot minutes.
Flip is becoming a flop when it comes to utilizing what was supposed to be a strength coming into the playoffs. You give these guys a chance to shine and if they aren't, you take them out. Is it a case where if they play well, you look silly for not trying sooner?
Theo Ratliff played in Games One and Two, but sat Saturday night. Rookie Arron Afflalo has been groomed all season as a defensive stopper. He stopped after warm-ups and warmed the pine. I'm confused, but then again, I'm not an NBA coach.
When you're down and struggling, you have to be sure you exhaust all avenues. The Pistons went to a trapping defensive zone and forced some mistakes, and it may be useful from here on out, but was too little, much too late.
Detroit may have cut the lead down to nine in the fourth quarter, but who expected a miracle comeback? I sure didn't. Some games you just know are losses, and can't wait for them to end.
At the rate the Pistons going, there will not be a championship parade down any Detroit avenue any time soon. While coach Saunders believes game four is their biggest game all season.
“They got home court back,” Saunders said. “Monday is a crucial game for us—the biggest of the year.”
Sheed doesn't think so. “I don’t see it as a big thing,” he said. “It’s all about whoever gets to four.”
Whatever the opinion, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals is what its all about.