[size=18:c199b3848c]Pacers take Game 1 from Pistons[/size]
Indiana grabs psychological edge in series, staves off late Detroit surge for 78-74 win

By Bob Wojnowski / The Detroit News

INDIANAPOLIS--In games this tight, with stakes this high, with scores this low, sometimes it takes a shot in the dark to win it.

Indiana’s Reggie Miller, who hadn’t made a basket all night, drilled a three-pointer in the final minute to let the Pacers escape — yes, escape — with a 78-74 victory over the Pistons in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals Saturday night.

How close was this game? Rip Hamilton’s three-point attempt to tie it moments later barely bounced out, and the predominant sound of the opener was this: Gasp. Get used to it. These teams are clinging to each other like sweat.

For all the Pistons’ effort, this was a squandered chance, and they knew it. Rasheed Wallace knew it so well, he had one thing to say about the Pacers afterward: “They will not win Game 2.”

He said it four times, as he sat at his locker, staring straight ahead. That’s all he said. That can’t be all he does, as he finished with four points, hitting one of seven shots. Oddly, Miller hit just one of seven too, but few NBA players have his dramatic flair.

With such brutally stifling defense, and such brutal shooting, these games will be won in the dirty margins, maybe with one shot. The Pistons missed way too many of theirs in the fourth quarter. Eventually, they’ll have to find someone to make those late shots. After Hamilton’s miss, Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace missed, and their fate was sealed.

On one hand, the Pistons nearly stole a game despite committing 17 turnovers. On the other hand, they led midway through the fourth quarter and couldn’t hang on.

After Rasheed Wallace made his quasi-guarantee, Ben Wallace spoke just as tough. He led everyone with 22 rebounds, but wasn’t pleased.

“That one shot didn’t beat us,” Ben Wallace said. “We made a lot of silly plays down the stretch. We can’t afford to take quick shots or bad shots. Other than that, it was the typical game we expected. We knew we’d have to grind it out.”

All night long, the Pistons seemed poised to steal a victory, playing a solid road opener. It was a tight tussle befitting the teams, a slugfest only the East’s Beasts could truly appreciate. One of the Pistons’ scoring stars, Hamilton or Billups, would make a basket to keep the game close. Then one of the Pacers’ scoring stars, Jermaine O’Neal or Ron Artest, would try to pad it.

Again and again, the Pistons would slap on their defense, as if tugging at the Pacers’ jerseys to keep them from pulling away. There was nothing wrong with the effort, barely two days after the Pistons finished that emotional series against New Jersey.

For the Pistons to hang tight, Rasheed Wallace will have to hang tighter with O’Neal, and work closer to the basket. If we didn’t know it before, we know it now — these are similar teams with similar themes. OK, actually the exact same theme.

The Pacers’ flashed their motto — “Time to go to Work” — on the scoreboard before the game. Hmm. Sounds like the Pistons’ “Goin’ to Work” theme. I guess Rick Carlisle brought more than his suit collection to Indianapolis after being fired in Detroit.

He also brought the physical mind-set, which is why this should be one deliciously arduous series. Listen. Everyone knows the subplots, from Larry Brown-versus-Carlisle on up. Players and coaches may hate it but we love it, and this is why: It juices this like no playoff series has been spiked around here since, oh, the Red Wings and the Avalanche.

If Detroit ever is to become Basketballtown again, as it was during the good days of the Bad Boys, this is the matchup that could do it. The Pistons and Pacers are the two best teams in the East, no discussion necessary. They’ve been churning toward this collision for a long time.

Both teams have a lot of guys — players and coaches — with a lot to prove. It’s hard to imagine a more-inspired player than Ben Wallace, who was the reigning two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year until Artest dethroned him.

Wallace admitted he didn’t miss his former coach one bit, and then began the game as if to prove it. The key is, he can’t try to do too much, especially on offense. But this is how it will go, back and forth, strength on strength, star on star.

“We felt like we should have won this game,” Billups said. “We just got a little impatient down the stretch. But this is going to be a dogfight. This is just the start of it.”

Great challenges become great confrontations, and can become great rivalries. This is defense versus defense, power versus power, past coaches versus present coaches.

One game could be an omen, and the Pistons have to be concerned about that. More likely, this was merely the first slug of a long bout.

Bob Wojnowski’s column appears regularly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at

[size=18:c199b3848c]Lapses doom Pistons[/size]
Late surge helps Pacers steal game

By Chris McCosky / The Detroit News

INDIANAPOLIS — You can’t play scared. You can’t go soft, not for a second. Not in this series.

If you do, you will stand out and you will be exposed.

The Pistons had too many lapses, too many soft stretches Saturday. As a result, the Indiana Pacers have broken on top in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals series.

Despite shooting 32 percent, the Pacers were able to beat the Pistons, 78-74, before a rowdy crowd at jam-packed Conseco Fieldhouse.

“They will not win Game 2, I guarantee it,” Rasheed Wallace said. “And you can write it.”

Well, for that to happen, Wallace will have to produce more than four points and make more than 1 of 7 shots.

For that to happen, the Pistons will have to do a better job of keeping their composure in the stretch run. They will also have to make sure they don’t lose Reggie Miller on the perimeter in the final minute.

“We got carried away with trying to be the one to win it for us,” Ben Wallace said. “We didn’t play unselfishly, we didn’t play as a team down the stretch.”

The Pistons took a 74-72 lead with 1:40 left on a three-pointer by Tayshaun Prince, and then went soft — mentally and physically.

First, they allowed Jeff Foster to slide in for a layup. Then, after Chauncey Billups shot an air ball on a three-point attempt, they allowed Foster to tip out a missed shot.

The ball got into the hands of Miller. He missed his first six shots, but, every fan in the house knew this shot was going to be true.

Swish, three-pointer, ballgame.

“Once I got hit on the screen (by Foster), I knew he was going to make the shot,” said Richard Hamilton, who led the Pistons with 23 points and had raced and chased Miller all game. “He doesn’t miss those. He just doesn’t.”

The Pistons still had 30 seconds to get back into the game. Jermaine O’Neal missed two free throws with 19.2 seconds left, but Billups and Rasheed Wallace tossed up air balls on three-point attempts.

Miller then iced it with one free throw with 6.6 seconds left.

“It was just the law of averages,” Miller said of his winning shot. “I was going to be the hero or the goat. I figured I had a 50-50 chance and I will take my chances.”

O’Neal led the Pacers with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Ron Artest, who was an irritating defensive force, had 17 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.

Ben Wallace produced 11 points, 22 rebounds and five blocks for the Pistons. Billups scored 17 of his 18 points in the first half. He missed all five of his shots in the second half.

“One shot did not beat us,” Ben Wallace said. “Once we get a lead, we have to get good shots. We can’t afford to not get good shots. We can’t afford quick shots, bad shots, where we don’t get in a position to rebound the ball.

“This was the kind of game we expected. We know it’s going to be a grind-it-out series between two great teams. But we have to make the right plays down the stretch. We have to play as a team and not just jack up three-point shots.”

The Pistons also can’t afford to make 19 turnovers. The Pacers turned those into 21 points.

The Pistons also have to get more production out of their bench, which contributed just nine points.

They are also certainly going to need Rasheed Wallace to back up his guarantee with some points and defensive stops.

You can reach Chris McCosky at (313) 222-1489 or

[size=18:c199b3848c]Rasheed makes a promise: Pacers will not win the next game[/size]

By Rob Parker / The Detroit News

INDIANAPOLIS--Rasheed Wallace sat and stared straight ahead. Like a statue in a uniform, he never blinked, never moved.

More than 15 minutes after the Pistons blew a golden opportunity to steal Game 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night — losing 78-74 to the Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse — Wallace was still in full uniform.

His ankles were still taped. His sneakers still on and tied.

It was almost like Wallace was going to sit there and wait for Game 2 on Monday night.

While Wallace wasn’t able to deliver for the Pistons — he had just four points and seven rebounds in 36 minutes — Wallace delivered a message to the Pacers.

“They will not win Game 2,” said Wallace, who didn’t raise his voice. “I guarantee it. You can write it.”

When asked other questions, Wallace kept delivering the same message. “They will not win Game 2,” he said at least four times.

This was not some Joe Namath deal or Wallace grandstanding. This was from the heart.

Wallace said what most of the Pistons were feeling after letting the Pacers steal a victory they appeared to have in their hands.

The Pistons did just about everything right, but lost. They held the Pacers to just 34 percent shooting from the field, outrebounded the Pacers, 47-41, and outscored their backcourt, 41-19.

But they didn’t win because they didn’t execute down the stretch in the final 1:40. Reggie Miller’s three with 31.7 seconds left gave the Pacers a 77-74 advantage.

“We felt like we had all the chances in the world to win,” guard Mike James said. “Coming up short, you don’t get any moral victories.

“It hurt, but it’s nothing you can do about it now.”

You can bet Coach Larry Brown will try to grab a handle on the offense down the stretch. Instead of playing solid basketball, moving the ball to the open man and being patient, too many threes went up.

Chanucey Billups’ three-ball was an air ball with a minute to go and the score tied.

“We feel like we let one get away,” said Billups, who had 18 points.

Still down by three, the Pistons missed three more three-point shots. Richard Hamilton’s rimmed out. Billups’ wide-open look didn’t hit the rim and Wallace’s desperation three caught nothing but air as well. “We got away from our game plan,” James said. “Some people felt, for the most part, to try to win the game they had to do it on their own.”

While this isn’t a one-man band type of team, the Pistons will need Wallace to perform better than he did. He was 1-for-7 from the field. He didn’t establish himself in the paint enough.

“I think he relied on his perimeter offense,” Pacers’ forward Jermaine O’Neal said about Wallace.

The Pistons still have a chance to accomplish the mission they set out on, winning one game here. If they don’t get Game 2, Game 1 will hurt even more. In the playoffs, you just can’t afford to let games slip away.

To their credit, the Pistons weren’t afraid of Wallace’s bold comment. Instead, they embraced it.

“I’m not surprised (he said that),” James said. “Not at all.

“We believe in ourselves. He’s a little frustrated. I know he’s a little salty about the way he played. I know he’s going to bring a crazy effort on Monday, so we just have to help him back up what he said.”

Rob Parker’s column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You can reach him at

[size=18:c199b3848c]Miller closes strong[/size]
By Chris McCosky / The Detroit News

INDIANAPOLIS — How’s this for gratitude?

Before the Pistons’ morning shoot-around Saturday, Coach Larry Brown goes out of his way to praise Pacers guard Reggie Miller, going as far as saying that he has lobbied USA Basketball to put Miller on the Olympic team.

“I keep begging for him to be on the team,” Brown said. “With the guys leaving, his leadership and the fact that he will make big shots, I think he’d be great.”

So, how did Miller repay him? By shooting a dagger through his heart.

Miller, as we’ve seen him do throughout his career, rose up with 31.7 seconds left and drained a winning three-pointer.

Never mind that he had missed his previous six shots and had been run ragged by Richard Hamilton, whom he playfully referred to as “mini-me” after the game.

“I’ve seen it before,” Brown said. “It’s like I said, he’s the best clutch shooter in the game. I don’t know anybody I’d rather have take the last shot of the game.”

It doesn’t matter, apparently, that Miller is 38 and no longer the featured player in the Pacers’ offense.

“My role is different now,” he said. “My job is to play defense and make big shots.”

Brown, by the way, was dead serious about wanting Miller on his Olympic team this summer. Miller was on the gold-medal winning 1996 U.S. team, and was the leading scorer on the 1994 gold-medal team at the World Championships.

“You’ve got to marvel at the career he’s had,” said Brown, who coached Miller in Indiana from 1993-1997. “It’s unbelievable, at his age, to contribute like he does at both ends of the floor.

“I think he’s one of the biggest stories in our league that you never hear about. You hear about all these other old guys and their contributions, but nobody has made a bigger contribution to any team than he has.”

Which Pacers player should the Pistons fear most?
Ron Artest 33.71%
Al Harrington 8.99%
Regie Miller 24.72%
Jermaine O'Neal 32.58%

[size=18:c199b3848c]Artest is the driving force behind Pacers[/size]
By Joanne C. Gerstner / The Detroit News

INDIANAPOLIS — Let’s play a word association game to describe Pacers forward Ron Artest.

Hothead. Good teammate. Tough defender. Unhinged.

Maturing. Regressing. Confident. Arrogant.

Artest can be called many things, depending in the time, place and situation.

What isn’t in dispute is his talent. He’s one of the driving forces of the Pacers’ success this season. The key for Artest is keeping his emotional volatility under control, avoiding the technical fouls and suspensions that have hampered him in the past.

He has appeared to turn the corner this year, both personally and professionally.

“The thing that people forget is that Ron Artest is a young guy,” Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle said. “He just turned 24 this year. Coming off last year, he made the decision that things were going to be different on the court. And he’s kept that promise. He’s made it about basketball. On the other hand, he’s a family man. He’s got three or four kids, and so he’s a guy who’s got a lot going on both on and off the court.

“When you’ve got those types of responsibilities going on, your level of maturity is going to get stronger as you get older. And it has. And he’s had a great year.”

Artest likely will be a very important factor in deciding who wins the Eastern Conference championship. If he loses his cool, the Pistons could win. If Artest stays calm and plays well, the Pistons could be in big trouble.

Artest did the latter in Game 1 on Saturday night. He had 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots and was called for just one foul.

Artest changed his basketball life over last summer, dedicating himself to working out every day with former NBA player Chuck Person. Artest made the decision to improve himself the minute the Pacers were ousted in the first round of the 2003 playoffs by the Celtics.

The workouts were intense with Person and detail-oriented, but Artest never wanted to give up — not even for a one day.

He got so dedicated that the Pacers asked him to take a week off during August to stop him from possibly burning himself out before training camp.

“He kept pushing me and pushing me,” Artest said of Person’s one-on-one workouts. “I got really excited about the workout, I like that. We just worked on new things every day. It was a big-time help. Helped my game to go to the next level I wanted it to go.”

His tough summer regimen paid dividends this season. Artest has been impressive, keeping his cool, for the most part, and putting a bit of distance between himself and his checkered past.

He sat out 12 games last season because suspensions and was called for eight flagrant fouls. This season, he has only had one notable in-game run-in with Carlisle, in December, and a suspension for leaving the bench during a fight on April 19. Artest was not involved in the fight during the Pacers-Celtics first-round game, but stepped far enough onto the court to draw a suspension.

He has been a key part of the Pacers on both ends of the court, making a particular mark on the defensive end.

Artest was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year, ending Pistons center Ben Wallace’s two-year reign.

Artest is intense, staring down defenders like he wants to punish them. He’s also quick, physical and long, making him a single-man shutdown force capable of containing the game’s best scorers.

Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince faced Artest a bit in Game 1 and likely will see him often throughout the series.

“He is tough, no doubt about that,” Prince said. “You have to give him credit for how hard he works. It’s going to be a tough match-up, but I hope to be effective out there for us.”

Carlisle became Artest’s campaign chairman for defensive player of the year, having the Pacers staff break down almost every defensive possession in the regular season.

The video analysis revealed Artest held opposing players to an average of 9.4 shots and around 40 percent shooting.

On the offensive end, he’s the Pacers’ leading playoff scorer, averaging 20.6 points.

He is 6-foot-7, 246 pounds, a combination of a dangerous outside shooter who also can slash inside to score.

“That’s him, man,” Pacers guard Kenny Anderson told the Indianapolis Star. “The thing about him is, he’s so good offensively. He’s working both ends of the floor. I don’t remember the last defensive player of the year that could get it done on the other end like that. Mike (Jordan) is the only other one.

“So you’ve got to understand, Ron is coming at you the whole game. And the truth is, guys don’t want to deal with that. Not in a game and certainly not in a series. You’d have to be a mental giant to deal with that for an entire series.”

Carlisle said having a more mature Artest is important for the Pacers. He’s one of the team’s leaders and driving forces, provided he’s not leading the team in the wrong direction.

“He’s a competitor at the highest level,” Carlisle said. “He’s a team guy that puts winning above everything else. You can only hope to have 12 of those guys if you’re really lucky. If you’re lucky, you have one or two of them. “He’s unique.”

Maybe that’s the proper word to associate with Artest — just call him unique.

You can reach Joanne C. Gerstner at jgerstner@ or (313) 223-4644.