Before anyone jumps for joy over this, keep in mind the Pistons won 64 games this year and the spurs won 63. However, its pretty clear that the NBA does not want defense to dominate the game anymore, and these two teams are probably the ones who are going to change the most.
Nor should it be held against the NBA, because its pretty clear the freer pace is brining back many of the neutral fans that left when Jordan retired.
I do think coaches like Larry Brown and Rick Carlisle either need to change philosophies, or theyre going to be without jobs very soon. Stressing defense over offense is probably not going to work anymore. Poppovich and Pat Riley seem to understand this, and have adapted reasonably well.
Stern's edict haunts Pistons
AUBURN HILLS -- Before you realize why Joe Dumars did the right thing in hiring Flip Saunders last summer and installing a more offense-driven approach to the team, understand this isn't about conspiracy theories or plots to undermine Pistons basketball as you've come to know it.
The plain truth is NBA commissioner David Stern wanted the game changed after the Pistons won the title in 2004.
He tweaked the rule book to facilitate more offensive flow. He stopped all the bumping and grabbing on and off the ball. He opened the floor up for quick and powerful players such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and countless others who will carry the league's marketing banner into the future.
He did it because he felt the game had grown stagnant, and that oppressive defenses such as the Pistons' choked the life out of it. He hated the isolation plays that were bringing action to a standstill. More importantly, he noticed fans -- who filled the arenas and watched on television -- were starting to hate it, too.
Scoring sells, and Stern set out to loosen the shackles on offense. In so doing, he essentially legislated against lockdown, physical defensive teams such as the Pistons and Spurs.
To this day, he does not apologize for it, nor will he undo the changes.
"I think it is fair to say that we went through a period where it became fashionable to get a piece of a player (on his way through the lane), and if you didn't stop him, you at least slowed him up," Stern said in Miami before Game 4 on Sunday.
"We made a decision to say we wanted to try it the other way. I think our fans and our players are responding beautifully to that. It's giving people a chance to see how talented our players really are. We are pretty excited about that."
The Spurs, last year's champion, have been eliminated from the playoffs by the Mavericks' high-octane offense. The Pistons, unable to thwart a relentless Wade, might join the Spurs.
The Pistons' loss in Game 4 was a perfect illustration of how the new NBA is going to be played.
Once Wade or Shaquille O'Neal got their momentum turned toward the basket, there wasn't much the Pistons could do to repel them.
"If we breathe on him it's a foul, if we lay off, he scores," Pistons forward Antonio McDyess said.
Five Pistons were in foul trouble in Game 4, paying the price for playing old-school defense.
Wade, meanwhile, was shooting an incredible 69.5 percent in the series.
"Rule changes were basically made to create more offense, and sometimes when you're not allowed to touch people, either in the post much or in the perimeter, what it does is it gives more opportunities for your star-type players," Saunders said.
"I don't think anyone envisioned San Antonio would get into a series and give up over 100 points as they did against Sacramento and against Dallas.
"The way the rules are stated, where you can't touch people, sometimes it becomes difficult to contain guys who can put it on the floor and create."
That's exactly what Stern wants, and apparently the fans agree because television ratings are on the rise.
And that puts the Pistons in an adapt-or-die situation.
Dumars already saw this shift coming. That's one of the reasons he hired Saunders. And it's the main reason Dumars won't fire him.
As much as it runs counter to his own philosophy, Dumars knows if the Pistons are to continue among the elite they have to alter their identity.
Does that mean trying to reinvent themselves as an Eastern Conference version of the Suns?
Does it mean the Pistons stop playing defense?
Of course not.
Actually, the Pistons, for most of the season, had the right balance, the right approach. They were an open, flowing offensive team that had enough length and size to lock teams down when it mattered most.
Things have changed recently.
The offense has ground to a halt, and the Pistons' two main basket protectors are playing at diminished capacity -- Rasheed Wallace with a bad ankle and Ben Wallace with what appear to be dead legs.
A bad stretch, even though it has come at the worst possible time, isn't cause to blow up the team and start over. But Dumars knows some alterations must be made.
And, as unthinkable as it might have been a month ago, one of those alterations might involve Ben Wallace. In this new NBA, his defensive prowess is weakened and his offensive limitations are more exposed.
Not signing him would be drastic, dangerous and immensely unpopular, but it might be necessary.
But clearly, the old way isn't going to work. This series, as well as the Cleveland series, proved that.
Teams can no longer get away with playing four-on-five at the offensive end. Don't be surprised if the Pistons try to work a sign-and-trade deal with Wallace this summer to obtain a younger, more offensive-minded forward -- someone such as Toronto's Charlie Villanueva.
The game has changed.
The Pistons must change with it.
Adapt or die.