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The Pacers' Reggie Miller might be playing in his last home game tonight.
AUBURN HILLS --Dutifully, diligently, the Pistons are spouting them all, every playoff cliché, as if they've been here before, which they have, and know what to do, which they do. In case you missed it:
They've got the Pacers on the ropes, with their backs to the wall and can't let up.
When you have your foot on the throat, you have to press harder.
When the flour's in the pan, it's time to bake the cake. (OK, I made that one up).
You get the point. The point is, there's nothing left to say, but something significant left to do. The Pistons spent the past two games turning the Indiana Pacers into the Indiana Pacemakers, stomping to a 3-2 series lead, with Game 6 tonight in Indianapolis.
This could be -- actually, should be -- the clincher, propelling the defending champs back to the Eastern Conference finals, this time against Miami and Shaquille O'Neal. But if the Pacers truly are as resilient as advertised, with retiring 39-year-old Reggie Miller possibly playing his final game in front of a crazy, vengeful crowd, this still could get tricky.
The Pistons don't mind tricky. They don't even mind crazy, vengeful crowds. They generally finish off wounded foes, having won seven consecutive clinchers over the past three playoff seasons.
So, can we just stop the nonsense and end this madness?
"We love situations like this," guard Chauncey Billups said Wednesday after practice. "I think our team is always at its best when challenged. ... At this point, you're looking at two very good teams, two teams that never quit. They're gonna keep fighting, that's their personality. If you win, you got to go take it. Basically, they're not going to give you anything."
Maybe not, but the Pistons are taking everything lately. They have won consecutive games by 13 and 19 points, respectively, making the Pacers look suddenly old.
But because the NBA is such a stickler for details, a fourth victory is still required. And as always -- cliché alert! -- the fourth victory is the toughest. That is, unless the Pistons truly rediscovered their championship stride in that breathtaking 86-67 romp Tuesday night.
"It'll be tough to repeat that performance," center Ben Wallace said. "But we can always give that same effort. It's very important, when you get an opportunity to close a series, you don't want to let those guys get a second wind. You want to finish them off when you got 'em on the ropes."
See? They recite the phrases out of habit now.
More than any playoff series the past two seasons, the Pistons need to end this one. While Shaq is down on the beach resting an aching thigh, the Pistons have started collecting their own bruises, including Richard Hamilton's calf injury.
And really, what's the sense in letting their biggest rival gulp air? The Pacers are dangerous that way, riding emotions better than most. In their previous series against Boston, they lost by 20 and 31, and came back to win each time.
After the Pistons' Game 5 blowout, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle summed it best.
"We're not running and hiding from the truth," he said. "We know the deal. We know Detroit's a great team. We have to play a certain way and we have to play perfect, and we didn't do either. We've had to respond to difficult situations all year, and this is another one."
Listen. It's no major revelation the Pistons are a much, much better team than the Pacers right now, especially with Pacers star Jermaine O'Neal fighting a shoulder injury. All three Pistons victories were routs. Both Pacers victories were tight.
But the Pacers likely have one last furious effort left. They have the Miller motivation. They have the lingering sense that the Pistons wrecked their season.
We didn't see that spirit Tuesday night but the Pacers swear they have some left. At least Stephen Jackson sounds like he does, judging by his postgame comments, which began with, "They're not better than us."
Billups is the Pistons' smooth operator, the point guard in charge of keeping his team's on-court equilibrium. He doesn't ruffle, and he doesn't mind Jackson's confidence. Billups doesn't mind it because he understands it, and is ready for it.
"I'm not surprised he said that," Billups said. "I don't know how people (on Indiana) feel on the inside, for real, but that's what you're supposed to say. ... But I definitely think we've got a fourth and fifth gear, and when we find it, we really can't be stopped. We've had some stretches where we kind of let off the throttle. We want to keep the pedal down now."
Yep. We've heard that line before, too. It doesn't matter if the Pistons have the Pacers by the throat, on the ropes, against the wall or under their feet. The Pistons need to finish this series right now, because we don't even want to get started on Game 7 cliches.
You can reach Bob Wojnowski at bob.wojnowski@detnews.
I disagree with this article. Sheed ia a better one-on-one defender than Ben is
Wallace proves O'Neal wrong
Pacer has struggled since he questioned the defensive skills of Pistons center.
By Chris McCosky / The Detroit News
Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
Ben Wallace said he wasn't motivated by Jermaine O'Neal's suggestion that he wasn't a good one-on-one defender.
AUBURN HILLS -- The Pistons were shown some comments made by Jermaine O'Neal before Game 4.
O'Neal was quoted in the New York Post as saying, "Rasheed (Wallace)'s length enables him to get a hand in my face when I shoot jumpers. I'm bigger than him. I've got to take him down low and use my body to my advantage. Ben (Wallace) is stronger but smaller than Rasheed. He's really not that good defensively one-on-one."
In the two games since, the Pistons have blocked 16 shots (13 by the Wallaces) and O'Neal has missed 19 of 29 shots.
"There were some statements made in the paper and those guys (Wallace and Wallace) came out fired up," Antonio McDyess said.
"Jermaine had said something about Ben not being a good defensive player and we all know that's not true. When you see something like that, it's motivation."
Ben Wallace, though, said the quote had nothing to do with his performance.
"I don't need any motivation at this stage of my career," he said.
When Pistons have rebounded well, it has translated into victories vs. Pacers.
By Joanne C. Gerstner / The Detroit News
AUBURN HILLS -- According to Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess, the defensive "No Fly Zone" is firmly back in effect.
But air space seems to be very much unfettered on the other end of the court, allowing the trio of Pistons big men to hurt the Pacers.
The imposition of their collective wills has heavily contributed to the Pistons having a 3-2 series lead over the Pacers.
The Pistons want to continue the damage tonight and close out the Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse. But they know the Pacers will be trying to counter their inside game.
"I think we're getting a lot more hungrier," McDyess said. "It looks like they've got their backs against the wall, so you (Pacers) want to come out and play your best game. We're going to be looking for that and be fired up and play our best game."
The Pistons out rebounded the Pacers, 52-34, in Game 5. The Wallaces and McDyess combined for 25.
Then throw in the Pistons' staggering 22-11 margin in offensive rebounds and a 25-11 spread in second-chance points.
In fact, each one of the Pistons' three series victories is marked by winning the rebounding fights. And the Pistons have averaged 7.6 blocks in those victories.
Having the Pistons' big men control the game allows for many benefits.
• Defensively, it bogs down the Pacers' offensive penetration and denies additional scoring chances.
The defense has rotated well, providing help to the guards and at times throwing down traps in the corner.
• Offensively, the Pistons' forwards and centers force the Pacers' defense to stretch out. If the Pacers leave the Wallaces or McDyess unguarded, they score.
When the Pacers get there late and commit fouls, the Pistons get chances to make free throws. And yes, even Ben Wallace has been making his fair share of free throws. If the Pacers pack down the lane to clog the post, the Pistons' guards get free range to hit three-point shots.
It's a complex problem for the Pacers, one they need to solve immediately, and the Pistons are more than happy to complicate things.
"That's an important part of our game," Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said. "When we can get those guys going, doing their thing on the inside on both ends, it works well for all of us."
Ben Wallace was especially a monster in Game 5, with 19 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and three blocked shots.
While Ben Wallace couldn't cop to it, his teammates confessed that he took a bit of umbrage before Game 5 because of published remarks from Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal questioning his one-on-one defensive abilities.
"That was a good thing to see (Ben Wallace getting fired up)," McDyess said. "I think there were some statements made in the paper and those guys came out fired up. When you hear something like that, it's extra motivation on our part. To keep continuing to be motivated.
Ben Wallace, as usual, played things cool.
"We're in a nice groove, we've got a nice rhythm," Ben Wallace said. "It's always tough to repeat (Tuesday) night's performance. It was just a night where everything was falling for us. Everything was going our way on the defensive end.
"I think we might not be able to repeat that performance, but we can go out and give that same type of effort."
Miami is waiting for its next opponent while Detroit is still dealing with Indiana.
By Chris McCosky / The Detroit News
AUBURN HILLS -- The Pistons insist they haven't given much thought to the Miami Heat. The Pistons insist that their focus is on, and will continue to be on, the Indiana Pacers, until the very end.
"It's a race to four games, not to three," Rasheed Wallace said.
True. But the Pistons and Pacers are well aware that the Heat, whom the winner will play in the Eastern Conference finals, are waiting and resting, while they continue to grind it out.
"It's crazy," Antonio McDyess said. "But it's good for us. At least we get to play. We are getting our repetitions in and we're not getting rusty. You can definitely get rusty when you go that many days without playing basketball."
The Heat last played May 14. If the Pistons should close out the Pacers tonight, the conference finals are expected to start Monday. That would mean the Heat will have gone nine days between games.
If the Pacers force Game 7 (Sunday), the finals would start Wednesday -- an 11-day break.
Pacers dig in
The Pacers, be it false bravado or not, remained largely upbeat and optimistic Wednesday.
"We've been in this position before," Stephen Jackson told reporters. "I hate being in this position, but we're here. We can get out of it."
Ben Wallace was named to the All-NBA third team. It's the fourth straight year he has been honored. He has made the second team twice and now the third team twice. Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Chauncey Billups received honorable mention.
Their extended layoff could hurt their flow but help O'Neal get healthy again.
By Chris McCosky / The Detroit News
AUBURN HILLS--Q. Do you think the long layoff between series helps or hurts the Miami Heat?
A. Obviously, it helps Shaquille O'Neal and his thigh contusion. Whether the next series starts Monday (if the Pistons win tonight) or Wednesday (if the Pistons-Pacers series goes seven games), either way, O'Neal should be healed and well rested.
But, all the players and coaches I've talked to say that a long layoff can work against you as easily as it can work for you.
The Heat will have been off for either nine or 11 days. You can accrue a lot of rust in that time. And think about this, the Heat have not had to play a real competitive game in, what, a couple of months?
They cruised through the second half of the season. They won all eight of their playoff games, the last two with O'Neal in street clothes.
They haven't been in a true pressure situation in a long time.
On top of that, with O'Neal's injury, the Heat have been running their offense through Dwyane Wade, playing a much different style game than they would with a healthy O'Neal.
They have been playing more outside-in. When O'Neal is back and healthy, they will play more inside-out. It's not a major issue, of course. They played a lot of games with O'Neal. But it will require an adjustment.
The Pistons and Pacers, on the other hand, have been playing at a high level consistently and are in a comfortable game-practice-game-practice rhythm.
Their execution, you would think, would be more polished and precise, but you wonder if fatigue would eventually become a factor.
Six of one, half-dozen of the other.
Q. Back to the Pistons-Pacers series. How badly is Jermaine O'Neal's shoulder bothering him?
A. It looked real bad in Game 5. At halftime, he was bent over and wincing in pain. He played most of the game essentially left-handed.
He has been a trooper, though, refusing to make excuses or even admitting that it's affecting his game. But he's not a 34 percent shooter, not when he's healthy. I wouldn't be surprised if he has surgery right after the season.
Q. Do you think Larry Brown made a mistake in not playing Carlos Arroyo earlier in the series?
A. Not really. Arroyo really struggled in the Philadelphia series trying to defend Allen Iverson and Willie Green. There was no reason to think that he would be able to have any more success staying in front of Jamaal Tinsley, who earlier in the series was breaking Chauncey Billups down.
But give Arroyo credit. When he got his chance, he made the most of it. Nobody has doubted his ability to play offensively, though he is a much better pick-and-roll point guard than I had thought. And he and Tinsley play so much alike -- both real tricky with the ball and not gifted with a lot of straight-ahead speed -- it's been a good match for him.
Arroyo could be a key factor if the Pistons move on to play Miami, as well. He would be a tough cover for Damon Jones, certainly. But so is Billups. More importantly, though, he should be able to match up well with Heat reserve point guard Keyon Dooling.
Q. Is Cleveland really talking to Chuck Daly about becoming its next coach?
A. No. Daly, who will be 75 this summer, has made it abundantly clear that his coaching days are over. He had discussions with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert about doing some consulting work, but no agreement was reached.
Reserve point guard understands that you can't be selfish when trying to win a title.
By Jim Spadafore / The Detroit News
Daniel Mears / The Detroit News
Carlos Arroyo, right, says that despite his lack of playing time, he has tried to remain upbeat and encouraging on the bench.
AUBURN HILLS -- It was difficult at first, but Carlos Arroyo has bought into sacrificing his own satisfaction for the team.
"I like the way he's acted," coach Larry Brown said. "I know how badly he wants to play. He doesn't enjoy sitting. But he cheers for his teammates. You need some guys with emotion and pizzazz."
Plenty of pizzazz -- and some trust.
Brown is slowly gaining confidence in Arroyo. More performances such as Tuesday's and Arroyo could be a key off the Pistons' bench.
Not only did Arroyo have six assists and two points in 12 minutes during the Pistons' 86-67 victory over the Pacers, but he also took a timely offensive foul against Jamaal Tinsley. It was 33-33 when Arroyo sparked the Pistons to a 9-0 run, and they never trailed after that.
Arroyo passed to Antonio McDyess for a dunk, drew the charge on Tinsley, threw an alley-oop to Ben Wallace for a dunk and then passed to Chauncey Billups for a three-pointer.
"He got the crowd involved and he got us some easy baskets," Brown said. "I thought on his turnovers (three) he was trying to make the right play but on one he got hung up in the air. But I liked his enthusiasm and he's trying to do the right thing."
Arroyo, who was acquired from Utah on Jan. 21, started 16 of 30 games for the Jazz and averaged 8.2 points, 5.1 assists and 24.7 minutes. In 40 regular-season games with the Pistons, Arroyo's role was to back up Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. Arroyo averaged 5.3 points, 3.2 assists and 17.7 minutes.
But his playing time has been cut drastically during the playoffs. He hasn't played in three of the 10 games and has averaged just 9.6 minutes, with 1.4 points and 2.6 assists.
But he now fully understands the big picture -- and that's for the Pistons to defend their NBA title. Individual accomplishments and glory take a back seat to team goals.
"Right now, at this moment in my career, it's all about sacrifices and we all understand that," said Arroyo, who is in his fourth year in the NBA. "For us to win we have to have a team that understands that. When we're out there, (on the court) just appreciate the time we're playing and try to do our best.
"It's hard (sitting) but just like myself, everyone on that bench wants to play as much as I do. My job is to stay ready and to motivate the team while we're on the bench."
While Arroyo's strength is distributing the ball with his flashy passing, Brown sometimes doesn't play him because of his defense.
Piston basketball is built around defense and if you don't play it, you sit.
"I'm playing defense just like everybody else," said Arroyo, who gets a little riled when he hears about his lack of defense. "Not everybody's perfect and we try to contain our man, but the league has great players."
Arroyo said he's continually working on his defense and, in the meantime, he hopes to get more of an opportunity to play.
"That's what I'm here for ... I want to play," Arroyo said. "But as I've said in the past, my job is to be ready for whenever called and show that I'm ready.
"Hopefully, (Brown will) trust me enough to keep playing me."
Said Brown: "My big thing is defensively. We're built on defense. But Carlos was huge Tuesday and he was very important in Game 4."
When Arroyo was pulled Tuesday after throwing a bad pass, Lindsey Hunter went up to Arroyo and patted him on the back and gave him encouragement.
"He was unbelievable," Hunter said. "He got us going."
So I'm walking past the Palace loading dock Tuesday night, after the Pistons waxed the Pacers in Game 5 of their series, and there, standing by the bus, were Rasheed Wallace and Jermaine O'Neal, and they were talking and laughing and at one point they must have shared a joke so funny that Rasheed doubled over and shook his head in hysterics.
Now, as you know, these two do not play for the same team. An hour earlier, they had been battling on the court. They often guard each other in the blood feud known as Detroit-Indiana. They are "opponents" in every sports sense of the word.
Recently, it came out that these two men, friends since their days together in Portland, had spent last Saturday night, the night before Game 4, at O'Neal's house, watching a fight on TV.
Personally, my reaction was, "I wonder how big a screen Jermaine has?" I always think someone has better electronic equipment than I do, and then I get sad, and then I get catalogues. It's a guy thing.
Anyhow, apparently others are more conspiracy-oriented. Some suggest Jermaine-Rasheed is a breach of sports ethics, that you shouldn't socialize with the "enemy" the night before the game. I was watching one of those ESPN afternoon programs and saw Skip Bayless, an old friend of mine, arguing with Woody Paige about this very subject. How could Rasheed and Jermaine hang out like that? Wouldn't they lose the drive to defeat one another? Enemies can never be friends! Wait until the series is over!
Why, my radio partner Ken Brown said the same thing when we spoke about it. "Wait till the series is done for your relationship thing!" or something like that. I should point out that Ken is a professional comedian, just so Rasheed doesn't come looking for him.
Anyhow, I've heard enough on this to ask myself, "Is there really not a problem here, or am I nuts?"
I'm not nuts.
Old school? Dumars calls it 'archaic'
"Guys have friends on every team," Tayshaun Prince told me at the Palace. "It's no big deal. People are just saying that because of who we're playing."
So you don't care if Rasheed and Jermaine hang out?
"Nah," he said. "Why should I?"
Good question. Thanks for your time.
I called Joe Dumars, the Pistons' president of basketball operations. Years ago, Dumars was friendly with Michael Jordan during the years when the Pistons and Bulls had their annual showdowns. He never ate dinner with Jordan the night before a game -- that wasn't his style or the nature of the friendship -- but he has no problem with Rasheed doing it.
"Especially a guy like Rasheed," Dumars said. "It's not gonna make him any less competitive than he already is.
"I think it's kind of archaic to think you need a personal hatred for the guy you play against. Besides, from a healthy friendship standpoint, friends like having bragging rights."
So why do some fans think it's wrong?
"An antiquated way of thinking," Dumars said. "Fans think you sit in a room and pound your head against something, you punch the walls trying to get ready. That's just uninformed."
Not to mention bad for your knuckles.
Good friends like to rub it in, too
Now, it's not as if there isn't precedent for friendly rivalries. Even Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, who were as famous as rivals can get, would, on the same day as the annual Thanksgiving game between Philly and Boston, eat together at Chamberlain's place, with his mother cooking.
And if those guys could pass the potatoes without losing their sizzle, why can't everyone else?
Oh, I know some players think it's sacrilege to even look at the other guy during the playoffs. But the fact is, today's NBA players share agents, commercials, vacations, golf tournaments and off-season nightclubbing. Who's kidding whom about freshly minted "hatred"?
It seems to me this is more about fans' projecting the hate they have for the opponent. Players know one day they could be playing against a guy, and the next day, thanks to a trade, they're teammates. You play hard either way.
In the end, I sought out a man who was never known for his friendly relations -- Rick Mahorn. Big and nasty in his days as a Piston, Mahorn didn't win any Mr. Congeniality awards. A perfect source, I figured.
"Is it OK," I asked Rick, who was wearing a very nice suit while towering over me in the Palace tunnel, "to be friendly with a guy on the other team and the night before a game watch a fight at his house?"
(I immediately thought, given Rick's past, that his response would be, "Depends on the fight." But he surprised me.)
"You'll be a friend longer than you'll be a basketball player," he said. "It doesn't bother me if players from other teams hang out the night before a game. Years later, even if you were friends, you'll still want to be able to say to the other guy, 'I kicked your butt.' "
Did you ever do that, I asked, with friends you had in the league?
It has little to do with what happens on basketball court
May 19, 2005
BY JO-ANN BARNAS
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
It happens often enough to take for granted -- but they never will.
It comes from a momentary hush before the ribbing begins, when Ben Wallace closes out Darvin Ham in five games at Jillian's, a pool hall in Indianapolis.
It comes from the howling that rises from the back of the team plane when the players watch a desperate Carlos Arroyo trying to go deep against Ron Dupree, the self-anointed "Madden king of the Pistons," during their PlayStation football battles on road trips.
Thanks to their 86-67 victory Tuesday night, the Pistons can wrap up a berth in the Eastern Conference finals tonight with a victory against the Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The Pistons' performance on the court will determine the outcome, of course, and afterward an array of statistics will be explored, breaking down everything from points and rebounds to blocked shots and turnovers.
But to fully understand the success of the defending NBA champions the last two years, the players say it's important to turn your attention away from the numbers for a moment. Because that's where you'll find -- as guard Lindsey Hunter has coined it -- the "secret of our success."
Perhaps more than anything else, the Pistons believe they lead the league in team camaraderie. Although most teams cite winning as a common goal, the Pistons believe their approach sets them apart: Each day, they treat each other like best buds at a high school reunion.
And most of the bonding takes place -- where else? -- off the court.
"We're like a bunch of brothers, like a parent having 15 or 16 kids," said Hunter, in his 12th NBA season. "It's a family atmosphere with this team, it really is. You can catch any amount of guys together at any given time; no one's an outsider. I've never been on a team that, from top to bottom, you can do this."
Dupree, recalling a famous 1980s television sitcom, said: "I guess you could say that we're a 'Cosby' team. That's our story. A team that can get along off the court can get along on the court. Everybody is real close. We have everybody else's phone number. There are no cliques. We're a team that genuinely enjoys being around each other."
Sports psychologist Eddie O'Connor of Grand Rapids, a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee Sport Psychology Registry, says the heartbeat of any team begins with trust.
For the Pistons, that trust is rooted in their friendship.
"It's easy to get along when everybody's winning," O'Connor said. "But when that chemistry is challenged when they lose, do they still stay unified?"
The Pistons answered that in a big way last week after they dropped back-to-back games to the Pacers -- falling behind, 2-1, in the best-of-seven series.
"It concerned us, but we decided as a group to treat it like we won," Dupree said. "Everybody jumped on the same page."
The Pistons won the next two.
Joe Dumars says one of the balancing acts he faces in putting a team together each year as the Pistons president of basketball operations is mixing the "right talent with the right personalities."
For him, that means having guys who genuinely pull for each other -- no matter what the circumstance.
"We have guys with the superstar type of ability," Dumars said. "What we're not looking for is the prima donna attitude. If someone is looking for us to build the Pistons around him and him alone, that's not going to work."
Dumars said that although Hunter and Chauncey Billups led the welcome wagon, coach Larry Brown had done "an excellent job including and incorporating everybody into feeling like they're an integral part of our success."
Dumars also said that forward Rasheed Wallace went out of his way to embrace players, assigning everyone a nickname -- whether he wanted one or not.
"Weird names for everyone," Hunter (or "Hunt") said with a laugh.
For instance, Carlos Delfino is nicknamed "Top Model" and "Antonio Banderas" by Wallace. Richard Hamilton is "Hollywood Hamilton." Ben Wallace is "Balco."
From going out to dinner to catching a movie, Pistons trainer Mike Abdenour said the players travel in a large pack.
"No man left behind," Abdenour said of the team mantra. "Everybody is pulling those oars at the same time."
Because he's frequently joined on road trips by his wife and family, Arroyo said he never headed out to dinner with the team -- although he knew the invitation was always there. But last Saturday in Indianapolis, Arroyo made an exception -- and he was glad he did.
He joined eight members of the team, including Billups and Tayshaun Prince, at the Cheesecake Factory. Arroyo said he spent the whole dinner laughing so hard that "I told them to stop."
Arroyo had such a good time that he picked up the check.
"The first thing Joe Dumars told me when I got here was, 'To win a championship, you have to have special guys,' " said Arroyo, who arrived in a trade in January. "And this team is full of them."
Why geared-up Pistons should finish off the Pacers tonight
May 19, 2005
BY MICHAEL ROSENBERG
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
This Pistons-Pacers series has been violence-free, which is a wonderful thing. But in lieu of actual violence, let's go for the metaphorical kind.
The Pistons beat the Pacers over the head with a hammer three times.
The Pacers stepped on the Pistons' feet twice.
As it turns out, the NBA gives equal credit to head-beatings and foot-steppings, which is why the Pistons lead only 3-2 going into tonight's Game 6 in Indianapolis. But if we have learned anything from this series, it's this:
The Pistons are better than the Pacers.
OK, perhaps "learned" is too strong of a word. That's like saying we have "learned" that Ben Wallace is taller than your dog. We knew the Pistons were better.
But even the Pacers must realize it now. Indiana's only chance is to squeak by the Pistons two more times, and the only way that happens is if the Pistons add a rare uniform accessory: blindfolds.
The Pistons seem to know it. As always, they are oozing confidence. That's fine with coach Larry Brown, but if confidence is one thing, following through is another.
"My whole hope," Brown said, "is that we understand why we won."
That's all this comes down to, isn't it? The Pistons won the last two games because their ceiling is higher than the Pacers', and they reached for it. If they play that way again, well ...
"We've got a fourth and fifth gear," Chauncey Billups said. "We don't get to those gears every game. But when we do, we really can't be stopped."
Look at the Pacers' point totals in this series: 81, 92, 79, 76, 67. On those numbers alone, you would think the series was over.
It's not over, of course, and the Pacers deserve credit for that. The Pistons have delivered three quick knockouts -- victories by 15, 13 and 19 points. You would expect that from the better team. But the resilient Pacers, to their credit, have won two 15-round decisions -- by nine and five points.
The Pacers' problem is that they go through stretches where they can't shoot -- or, more accurately, they can't shoot well. They have no fourth and fifth gear. Bumper cars rarely do.
So we know all that. And the logical conclusion is that the Pistons will win handily again tonight, ending this crazy Indiana season quietly.
Except for one thing.
"A guy like Reggie Miller is not going to let his team go quietly," Billups said.
Actually, a guy named Reggie Miller is doing just that. Miller, one of the best clutch shooters of his generation, is 2-for-17 from three-point range in his last three games. It is painful to watch. And the most painful thing is that his cold shooting hand is freezing his mouth.
Reggie Miller is one of the great trash-talkers in the history of sports. He is just one of the great talkers, period. When he retires, he should do freelance work at celebrity roasts.
And he has always loved the big moment. Once, moments after teammate Rik Smits hit a game-winning shot in the conference finals, Miller told reporters, "I was so jealous of Rik. I'm glad we won, but inside it was killing me."
It takes a ton of charisma to say something like that without anybody thinking you are selfish. Miller has that kind of charisma. And as poorly as Miller has played in this series, I'm with Billups on this: Reggie Miller will not go quietly.
And yet, even if Miller plays well, and even if the Pacers play well, the Pistons should win. They just need a couple of big runs, and solid all-around play the rest of the game.
The Pacers have been gutsy and tough, and yes, they are talented. But they are also out of tricks. They have nobody else to throw out there, no Jeff Fosters hiding under the sleeves of Rick Carlisle's suits. It's time for the better team to play like the better team, even on the road, even in Reggie Miller's final game. Miami awaits.
PISTONS CORNER: Question his defense? Big Ben just laughs
Wallace needs no extra motivation
May 19, 2005
BY PERRY A. FARRELL
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
Ben Wallace doesn't need a lot of motivation to play -- and play well. Schedule a game, give him a jersey and an opponent, tape up his ankles and he's ready to go.
So it's hard to tell whether Jermaine O'Neal's comments in a New York newspaper last weekend got him fired up.
Peter Vecsey's column in the New York Post quoted O'Neal as saying Wallace wasn't "that good defensively one-on-one." Wallace is the NBA defensive player of the year and has won the award three times in four years.
"At this point in my career I don't need a lot of motivation," Wallace said Wednesday. "I just come out and play basketball."
Asked if the comments irked him, Wallace replied: "Some people just say the darnedest things."
He drew a laugh from reporters.
O'Neal isn't laughing. He's averaging 15.2 points and shooting 34.5% from the field in the second-round playoff series against the Pistons. In the regular season, O'Neal averaged 24.3 points and shot 45.2%.
Wallace was named to the All-NBA third team on Wednesday.
DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE: When the Pistons' defense is set and at its best, just look at the Pacers' numbers. They don't lie.
Stephen Jackson is shooting 33.8% from the field.
Jamaal Tinsley is leading the starters at 40%.
Reggie Miller, playing his final days in the NBA, is at 38%.
Jeff Foster is the only Pacer above 50%. He's 14-for-24 from the field for 58.3%.
As a team the Pacers are down to 37.8% in the series. Though they won't give total credit to the Pistons for locking them up, they almost certainly will have to make some shots tonight if they intend to force a Game 7 at the Palace.
"I feel like we made them work for every shot," Pistons coach Larry Brown said after Tuesday's domination. "We gave them, for the most part, one shot. That got us out on the break, and that got us some easy baskets. ... That second half was probably as good a half as we've played."
Including the series against Philadelphia, the Pistons have allowed 84.9 points a game and 40.9% shooting in the playoffs.
"They help each other," O'Neal said. "You get past one guy and another one is there."
NEED A BLOW? Forward Tayshaun Prince admitted after Tuesday's game that he got fatigued last weekend at Indiana. Brown thought it was because he had been chasing Jackson, and the Pistons didn't have a sub capable of replacing his scoring and defense.
The former Kentucky All-America has been playing in long stretches, and he's averaging a team-high 43.1 minutes a game in the playoffs.
"He's had a tough matchup," Brown said of Prince, who broke through for 16 points and 12 rebounds in Game 5.
Prince set the record straight Wednesday. He said he was tired because of a sleepless night Friday after Game 3. Prince misconnected twice on passes to Rasheed Wallace with the game in the balance, and the Pistons lost, 79-74.
"Those plays bothered me," Prince said. "We had a chance to get that game, and we had a couple of turnovers down the stretch. I couldn't sleep thinking about it. I was tired from tossing and turning."
After Game 5, a home victory, Prince slept just fine Tuesday night and thinks he's ready for a difficult Game 6 tonight.
NOTEBOOK: With Philadelphia's Samuel Dalembert out of the playoffs, Ben Wallace is the leading rebounder still playing. He's averaging 12.7 boards -- and shooting 52.3% from the field. ... Miller is winning his playoff free throw duel with Chauncey Billups. Miller is making 94% of his free throws. Billups is at 92.5%.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Of all the statistics that have brought the Pacers to the brink of elimination tonight, none quite tells the tale of the series like second-chance points.
The Pistons haven't taken just two shots on some possessions; they've taken three, even four. In Game 5, the Pistons scored 25 of their 86 points off second-chance opportunities, while the Pacers had only 11. In Game 4, also a Detroit victory, the Pistons had a 16-12 advantage. In the two games the Pacers won, they outscored Detroit, 22-10, on second-chance points.
Making sure the Pistons do not have another big helping of seconds is one of the Pacers' chief goals tonight as they take on the Pistons at Conseco Fieldhouse in a game that could mean the end of their season.
"We have to take it upon ourselves to take away their second-chance opportunities," forward Jermaine O'Neal said. "That's where they're scoring. You give a team multiple possessions, they're getting looks after looks after looks, and trying to keep bodies on those guys is wearing us down. We take away those second-chance possessions, it's a pretty even game."
Over the past two games, both Indiana losses, the Pistons had 33 more possessions. In the two games Indiana won, the Pacers had 25 more possessions. To extend this series, the Pacers realize they must outhustle the Pistons and take better care of the ball.
"There are a lot of residual things that lead to second shots, and poor decisions with the ball, and those are the things you have to clean up," coach Rick Carlisle said. "In a series like this it's hard to get shots, hard to get good shots. It's been hard for Detroit at times, and we've got to make it harder on them and make it easier on ourselves by getting stops and being able to get in transition and do some things off flow, because if you have to walk it up against Detroit, it's going to be too tough to get quality looks at the basket."
NOTEBOOK: O'Neal would help Indiana's cause by starting to make shots. He was 6-for-14 in Game 5, after totaling 6-for-26 in Games 3 and 4, and is shooting just .345 for the series. (He shot .452 in the regular season.)
O'Neal, who is hampered by a sore right shoulder, the arm he uses to shoot, joked after Game 5 that he'd shoot left-handed, two-handed, no-handed, if necessary. He reiterated Wednesday that he knows how much this series rides on his finding a way to score.
"If we win this series, it's because I found a way; if we lose, it's because I failed to find a way," he said. ...
Any notion that the Pacers are giving up because they know they're already perceived as overachievers isn't going over well. "If we had been a team that was willing to give in to lowered expectations, these guys would have packed it in long ago," Carlisle said. "There was every excuse in the world to pack it in, going back to Nov. 20," the day after the brawl at the Palace, "and we just haven't."
Pistons would retire Pacers great with win
May 19, 2005
BY HELENE ST. JAMES
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
INDIANAPOLIS -- At some point before tip-off tonight, Reggie Miller will approach Pacers video coordinator Hanson Wong and ask Wong what he'd like to see happen in the game.
Miller will then walk into the Pacers' locker room and imitate Wong's precise delivery, making sure the entire team knows the night's goal. It is but one of many quirks that are part of the Miller lore, part of the legend that surrounds the man who has been Pacers basketball for 18 years.
Miller, 39, announced months ago that this would be it for him, that he is done playing in the NBA. Now the Pistons threaten to make that end real, to unceremoniously retire Miller by wrapping up this second-round series in Game 6. That the Pistons are in position to do so stems largely from the fact that they've hounded him. Miller is shooting just 38% against Detroit; this from a man whose career field-goal average is 47.1%. His clutch shooting was the reason the Pacers won Game 3, but otherwise, Miller's lack of offense has been devastating.
"They're having a tough time getting him open," Hall of Fame coach and ABC analyst Hubie Brown said Wednesday. "(Richard) Hamilton has been on him, but the bumping and reading hasn't been as quick. And whether it is new sets, whether it is new continuities, only they know that. But they're not in the flow of how they've been all year. MILLER HIGHLIGHTS
"It's easy to say it's the Detroit defense, but the defense is still picking them up at the top of the circle, so it isn't like they're hounding them and they're running the clock and now they're getting down and they don't have time. They have plenty of time. What is wrong with the continuities? What is wrong with the post-up game that the angles are not the same on the kick-outs on the double teams? Those are the things that they have been changing."
Miller would not talk to reporters, and the teammates who did talk -- Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson -- said the predictable things about wanting to extend his career, etc., etc. Rick Carlisle, the coach, called the Miller subplot the "white elephant in the room," and deferred to the law of averages when asked why Miller's shots aren't falling.
It would not, of course, be so noticeable if it wasn't Miller. But this is a player who has stamped his name on the game with performances that will never be forgotten -- like Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals at New York, when he scored 25 points in the fourth quarter; or Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, also at New York, when he scored eight straight points in 8.9 seconds. Miller has defined the art of making the big shot.
"When they start talking about guys who have won games, come on," Brown said. "Some guys in their career might have a couple. This guy has pages and pages of games that he has resurrected the crowd."
If Game 6 weighs on Miller, he is not letting on. O'Neal and Jackson both said Miller appeared the same as always Wednesday: upbeat, sticking to routine. "The way he approaches games is the same way he's approached them the last 17-18 years in the league," Jackson said.
Tonight, then, Miller will go out as always before the game and take the same rotation of shots he's done so many times before. He'll go through all his old routines, and his newer one with Wong, and then he may well go out and add to his legend.
WORKING OT: Steve Schrader takes a closer look at the NBA playoffs
May 19, 2005
TWO CENTS WORTH
•How come ABC seems to have all the big hits? Don't forget to tune in tonight for the shocking season finale of "Desperate Hometeams," starring the Indiana Pacers.
Just wondering, after the Game 5 pasting at the Palace, how could things get any worse for the Pacers tonight?
•They could run out of time-outs in the first quarter.
•Shazam! Instead of Jim Nabors, Ron Artest could perform the rap version of "Back Home Again in Indiana" before the game -- if, of course, he were allowed in the arena.
•Just for grins, David Stern could suspend Peyton Manning for next season.
•Malcolm Glazer could buy the team in a hostile takeover.
•Darko could school Jermaine O'Neal.
•The Pacers could have to wear some of those new Nike jerseys like Michigan's. At least they're the same colors.
•They could wait in the wrong line for hours and have to sit through "Monster-In-Law" instead of "Revenge of the Sith."
•They could have to play the Pistons two more times instead of just once.
DALY DOMINO THEORY
Lots of NBA teams don't know who their coach will be next season -- maybe even the Pistons -- but while everybody's talking about it, nobody seems to be doing much to change the situation.
That is, when's somebody going to actually hire a coach, since there are candidates available? Former Pistons coach Chuck Daly says it might be that everybody's waiting for someone to make the first move.
"It'll be a domino effect," Daly told the Orlando Sentinel. "That's exactly what's going to happen. Once one goes, the others will soon follow. ...
"It's a logjam now mainly because of Phil Jackson. I think there's some delay, too, because Larry Brown is still in the playoffs. People are waiting on his decision. Will he coach again or not? Will he be a GM or a team president?
"Everyone mentions Jackson and Brown, but they can't coach all the teams. Some years, it's just like this. The decision-making process takes time."
We couldn't let Darko Milicic's big game go by without relaying Damir Jovanovic's take on it, as posted on jadransport.org, a Web site devoted to Serbia-Montenegro sports: "Surprise ... surprise ... Larry Brown has finally given Darko Milicic some time to play, as the young Serbian center spent four minutes in the Game 5 against Pacers and scored three points for Detroit Pistons which won 86:67 and now have a 3:2 lead.
"And the only reason the 'experienced' coach made this move was because over 22,000 people were shouting in the Palace of Auburn Hills, 'We want Darko, We want Darko.' ... Brown finally gave in and gave the boy a chance."
Maybe he really is the next Michael Jordan.
Not only can he do it on the court, with or without Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade can move the product, too.
Wade's No. 3 Miami Heat jersey was the No. 1 seller in the NBA last week, according to SportsScanINFO, which tracks sales of sports merchandise.
In fact, SportsScanINFO spokesman Neil Schwartz told Bloomberg News that there were three different styles of Wade jerseys in the top 10. And the Heat -- the team waiting for the winner of the Pistons-Pacers series -- is first in team jersey sales (Shaq also has three in the top 25).
No wonder P. Diddy signed Wade to model his Sean John clothes.
This might be your chance to get a Pistons championship ring -- assuming they repeat as NBA champs.
The winner of a contest sponsored by Famous Footwear -- which is introducing a line of NBA casual sneakers -- will get a trip to next season's home opener of the 2004-05 champs AND receive a ring with the team.
Could be in Auburn Hills, could be somewhere else.
Either way, you can enter at famousfootwear.com/nbals (click on the "special offers" link).
•Kobe's dad -- Joe Bryant, a former NBA player himself -- has been named head coach of the Tokyo Apache in the new Basketball Japan League, which begins play in November. Doesn't he know the Lakers have an opening?
•Who would win in a street fight, a Wookiee or a Klingon?
•Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni, quoted on ESPN.com on the Dallas Mavericks' ganging up on Amare Stoudemire: "There's nothing you can really do if their whole team is going to guard Amare. I guess we can say, 'Please don't do that.' "
Pacers have shown resilience during long season
May 19, 2005
BY PERRY A. FARRELL
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
Don't expect the Indiana Pacers to go quietly in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Pistons lead, 3-2
GAME 1 | W
GAME 2 | L
GAME 3 | L
GAME 4 | W
GAME 5 | W
Today at Indiana, 8 p.m. TV: ABC (Channel 7 in Detroit).
Sunday at Detroit, 7 or 8 p.m. TV: TNT.
* If necessary
Why the Pistons need to finish Indy tonight
• On "The Apprentice" finale night, Pistons can play Donald Trump with Reggie Miller. You're fired!
• Save money on Palace bomb squad pay.
• Shaq's thigh getting more rest than Dave Chappelle.
•Only thing we want desperate on Sunday are "Housewives."
The Pistons can clinch the playoff series tonight at Conseco Fieldhouse, but Rick Carlisle is too good a coach to let his team get dominated the way it was Tuesday night in the Pistons' impressive 86-67 victory.
The Pistons know Reggie Miller will be sky-high because this could be his last game as a Pacer. He announced his retirement months ago.
And the Pacers have demonstrated resilience all season. They made the playoffs after overcoming lengthy suspensions and injuries, then won three games at Boston in their first-round series.
That's the kind of fight the Pistons expect tonight, when they will try to close out the series and advance to the conference finals against Miami.
"The bottom line is, they've handled adversity all year and been real resilient," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "We have to play our best game going there. They showed against Boston and they've shown all year that they have a lot of guys with character. They have a great coach."
For the Pacers to force a Game 7 on Sunday, they will have to play a lot better than they have in the past two games, both losses. Indiana scored 67 points and shot 36.9% in Game 5 after scoring 76 points and shooting 37.1% in Game 4.
But Brown doesn't pinpoint shooting as the difference in the series.
"Usually, and I've said this over and over again, rebounding and taking care of the ball is the most critical thing I've seen in this series," Brown said Wednesday. "Baskets are hard to come by because we do know what each other's tendencies are.
"That makes it imperative to not give up second shots and get as many possessions as you can. You eliminate easy baskets."
In their three victories over Indiana, the Pistons have averaged 12.3 turnovers. In their two losses, they have averaged 16.5.
They have a 144-117 rebounding edge in the victories, but a 92-85 deficit in the losses. The rebounding difference was huge Tuesday night -- 52-34.
But Brown isn't fooled by Indiana's performance in Game 5. He realizes the Pacers will be ready tonight, especially with the prospect that Miller might be playing his final game.
"This is going to be a tough game, especially trying to close them out," said Ben Wallace, who's averaging a double-double in the series -- 11.2 points and 13.2 rebounds. "They still have a lot of fight in them.
"I know Reggie Miller isn't going to let his team go quietly. They'll come out and fight for it. We look for it to be a dogfight."
The Pistons have won three of their four games at Conseco Fieldhouse this season, including the playoffs, and Wallace likes what he seems from his team.
"We're in a nice groove; we've got a nice rhythm about ourselves," he said. "It's always going to be tough to repeat last night's performance. It was one of those nights where everything was falling for us and everything was going our way on the defensive end."
The Pistons "might not be able to repeat that performance," Wallace said, "but we can go out and give that same effort."
Chauncey Billups, who's averaging 26 points in the playoffs at Conseco, expects more of the same from the Pistons, the defending NBA champions.
"We seem to be at our best," he said, "when something is at stake."