This is something I wrote at another site. I warn you, it's very long, but I feel it's a great read.
Pacers/Pistons Rivalry Recap and Analysis
by Aaron Tricker (scarface)
For the most part, before acquiring Rasheed Wallace, the Pistons were a quiet team. They had moderate success, but were never better than the Net or Pacers. At one point last season, they made a splash by going on a 13 game winning streak. On Friday, January 20th, 2004, they played my Pacers. It was a match up of the two top Central Division rivals, and possibly the top two Eastern Conference teams. For me, it was a test of how powerful Indiana was against it's top Eastern foe.
Both teams were at their best. Detroit had their 13 game winning streak; Indiana had won 11 of 12, including a current 4 game winning streak. The game, which pitted the leagues hottest team in the Detroit Pistons, who were 29-13, against perhaps at the time, the leagues second hottest team in the Indiana Pacers, who had a record of 32-11. Indiana had won the first two games, the story being that Indiana had actually bullied Detroits guards.
In the first game, the Pacers won a thriller that saw Mehmet Okur blow the game on a three point attempt that drew nothing but brick and gave Indiana the 89-87 victory. It was a grind-it-out game, like so many other Pacers/Pistons games. What gave Indiana the greatest advantage was the fact that their defense, especially in the back court, was almost flawless. They haunted Detroits gaurds, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton. Billups shot 3 of 17, scoring a meager 8 points. Rip Hamilton's night wasn't much better; he shot 3 of 14, scoring 11 points. The two combined for 6 of 31 shooting, and 19 points. Mehmet Okur was the only thing that kept Detroit in the game; he finished with 17 points off of the bench.
The second game between the two teams also featured a grind-it-out tempo. It saw the same ending result; a Pacers victory. It, like the first game, was a tough back-and-forth battle that saw the Pacers fall behind the Pistons by as many 13. But Indiana never gave up and ended up taking the lead back in the 4th quarter, and never look back for an 80-75 victory. Also like the first game, the Pacers guards had punished the Pistons guards defensively. Billups did better in this game, but never-the-less, it wasn't a good game for him. He shot 4 for 11, scoring 13 points. Rip was 5 for 12, scoring 12 points. Combined, they were 9 for 23. Not the game you'd expect from the eventual NBA Champions.
I was really looking forward to the Pacers vs. Pistons part 3. I knew the Pistons had gained some victories and some fans were calling them the best team in the East. I wanted nothing more than to show people that Indiana was the better team. I wanted everyone to see that the East belonged to Jermaine O'neal and the Pacers. And I wanted everyone to see the defense Indiana boasted. They had shut down Detroit's guards, and had set a record 7 straight games of holding opponents under 80 points per game earlier that season.
The game itself was nothing like the first two. This game saw Indiana in control pretty much the whole 48 minutes. The one similarity was that Indiana had played fairly good defense. They held Detroit to 69 total points, and had once again punished their guards as they coasted to an 81-69 victory. The Pacers had held Chauncey Billups to a 2 of 11, 11 point night. Rip Hamilton had a 4 of 13 night for 15 points. The one player that played good was Corliss Williamson, who had a 17 point night off of the bench.
To me, it was a fantastic sign. Indiana was better than their Central Division rivals. I had long waited to see this team reach the finals again after 2000. Their latest playoff stint left a sour taste in my mouth. Their loss to Boston had made me want to throw up. But this season was a break out season. The Pacers raced off with the best record in the NBA. They were going to run away with the Central Division title, and perhaps the whole Eastern Conference. Enter Rasheed Wallace.
I remember watching sportscenter and seeing Rasheed Wallace getting traded to the Atlanta Hawks. I remember laughing at how much rotten luck Rasheed Wallace had. He went from being on an underachieving Portland Trailblazer team to the dumpster of the east, the Atlanta Hawks. Fate would soon rain on my parade.
Rasheed Wallace was always in trouble in Portland. If it wasn't him getting introuble with the law, it was him saying or doing something controversial. It was very apparent that Portland wanted to dump Wallace to help let youngster Zach Randolph grow into the Franchise Player. So they delt him to Atlanta with Wesley Person for Shareef Abdur Rahim, Theo Ratliff, and Dan Dickau. At the moment, I thought that Wallace was taking his 17 points, 1.6 blocks and 7 boards a game to a non contender. I wasn't concerned in the least bit.
Then a couple nights after the trade, I read that the Pistons were attempting to acquire Wallace. I knew that Joe Dumars had attempted to land him while he was in Portland, but I never thought of it as more than just a simple rumor. I read that Atlanta was actually going to deal a player they had just traded for. It kind of made me laugh. I didn't beleive a word of it.
Then the next night, I read that the Pistons had actually done it. They actually landed Rasheed Wallace. I was hoping someone was playing a joke, but it wasn't a joke; it was reality. The Pistons had landed Rasheed Wallace, and perhaps the key that would boast them past the Pacers. I was in denial for a while about it. I actually made excuses for why Indiana was still better. But the Pacers had just lost Ron Artest to injury, and it was many people's oppinions that Artest was done for the season. So all of the sudden, Indiana looked like the weaker team. They weren't just weaker, they were insignificant. They were a speck to the Pistons. The Pistons with Rasheed Wallace and the Pacers without Ron Artest were like the Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals.
I watched the Pacers go from lions to mice. They had lost Artest in a game against the Hornest. He was gone for perhaps the season. And with the East suddenly getting deaper, and tougher, that was a very bad thing. Indiana's depth really helped them out in this situation. Al Harrington moved into a starting role, and I told myself that everything was going to be okay. But Harrington struggled to adjust. And after a second blowout to the Hornets, I was ready to mark this season as a dissapointment. The Pacers were in Golden State, and it wasn't on t.v., so I planned on going to bed early that night.
I tossed and turned but couldn't sleep. I found it hard to sleep when the team I love was on the downfall, and everyone wanted to take shots at them. People saying the Pacers weren't going to get out of the first round. People saying they couldn't stand a chance against the Pistons, Nets or Hornets. So I finally just got up and turned on the t.v. at about 2 in the morning. Nothing was on besides Nick at Nite, so I decided to watch some ESPNews. I saw the Pacers highlights coming up, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch. And then the most shocking thing I'd ever witnessed on my t.v., Ron Artest was playing! He came back after only 5 games. He had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his hand, and now he's back, less than 3 weeks later!
After that, Artest was back, the Pacers were back, and I was back. The Pacers won 13 of 17 games, bringing them to Sunday, April 4th, 2004.The Pacers were back. They were healthy for the most part. And many were pondering how they would fair against the newly found powerhouse, Detroit Pistons. I was optimistic.
The Pistons, after acquiring Rasheed Wallace, took a while to find their swagger. They suffered a 4-3 record in the first 3 games before they went on a run that would scare everyone around the league. After going 4-3, the Pistons went on an 8 game winning streak, the first 5 of those games, they held all of their opponents to under 70 points per game, which is just unheard of. It was sickening.
Then, on April 4th, 2004, the Pacers and Pistons had their first show down. The Pistons, since acquiring Rasheed Wallace, had gone 15-5, and were looking very, very legit. The Pacers had gone thru 2 straight blow out victories, and were looking very good. I was hoping that his game would prove Indiana to be the better team. I would be able to silence the critics who claimed the Pacers were a joke. Only, this game turned out to be a nightmare.
On this game, Rip Hamilton wasn't shut out. Instead, he was 9 for 15, good for 24 points. Billups didn't have that great of a game, but that wasn't the story. Detroit only scored 79 points. They didn't beat us with their offense, they massacred us with their defense. Jermaine O'neal, our leading scorer and franchise player, starter on the All Star team, third in voting for MVP, was held to 9 points on 4 of 15 shooting. Rasheed Wallace has kept a strangle hold on him. Indiana barely scored 61 points to Detroits 79. And once again, I was feeling really, really, sick. I tried to use the excuse that Jamaal Tinsley and Jonathan Bender weren't playing. I didn't believe a word I was saying to other people, but I kept saying it. Indiana would be just fine. Indiana would be just fine.
When the playoffs came, Indiana had secured the best record in the NBA, and had the number 1 seed in the east. They played the Boston Celtics. It was sweet revenge for them having ousted us the year before. Indiana had blown Boston out each game. It was however, completely irrelevant in their quest to be NBA champs. The Celtics were perhaps the worst playoff team in NBA history that year, so it was to be expected.
The second round brought Dwayne Wade and the young Miami Heat, who had just finished a grueling 7 game series with the New Olreans Hornets, where as the Pacers had 10 days to wait after they had eliminated Boston. Indiana had a tough series with Miami. Dwayne Wade provided alot of problems for them. And on Miami's homecourt, the Heat were very good. The series had shifted back and forth, and on the 6th game, Indiana had a 3-2 lead. Indiana went into Miami with a purpose, and pulled down an impressive victory.
Detroit had manhandled Milwaukee, and then played in a very tough series against New Jersey. New Jersey had once held a 3-2 lead against Detroit. But in pressue Detroit responded by winning the last 2 games of the series setting up an epic match up against Indiana. I was excited and worried at the same time. I was affraid that they would dominate Indiana. But then I thought about how Indiana was a serious contender and how they had beaten just about every tough team out there.
The Pacers played the Pistons at Conseco Fieldhouse in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals. The winner of this series would go on to the finals. The first game was a classic grind-it-out game. It was just as epic as I had predicted. There was no clear-cut winner. Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups were the only two players that showed up for Detroit offensively. They combined for 16 of 33 shooting for 41 of Detroit's 74 points. Indiana was led by Jermaine O'neal who had 21 points; Ron Artest had 17 points. But more importantly, Reggie Miller had 6 points. 3 of those points came in the final minute which arguably won the game for the Pacers, 78-74.
The Pacers were up 1-0 and my confidence in my team was soring higher than ever before. Rasheed Wallace had made a comment after game 1 saying that Indiana wouldn't win game 2. I was hoping more than ever that the Pacers would win this one. But the worst thing was that I had to work. After work I raced home to catch the end of the game. Detroit was on their way to winning the game when the Pacers mounted a run. They were 2 points down when Jamaal Tinsley came up with a steal and threw it to Reggie Miller. Miller went up for a lay up and out of no where Tayshaun Prince came up with a huge block. It was the sickest block I'd ever seen, and it saved the game for the Pistons, who won, 72-67. Chauncey Billups had only had 6 points on 1-7 shooting, but Rip Hamilton had 23 points on 8-14 shooting.
With the series tied up at 1-1, Indiana went into Detroit hoping to take back home-court advantage. The Pistons controlled the game from the start. Everytime they came close, the Pistons D stepped up and they offense would react. The Pistons ended up winning 85-78. Chauncey Billups had 14 points on 4-11 shooting, while Rip Hamilton was 7 of 19 for 20 points.
The series was now 2-1 Detroit, and once again, I had to work. I caught a few glimpses at the t.v. and saw Indiana beating Detroit pretty severely. I was very happy to say the least. I went home and watched ESPNews and saw that they won, 83-68. Rick Carlisle decided to use Austin Croshere. Croshere came up big for us and was perhaps the reason we won. But when the highlights came on, I saw that Jermaine O'neal had hyperextended his knee and Jamaal Tinsley had also gone down. Later it would be diagnosed as a partially torn acl. Rip Hamilton had 10 of 24 for 22 points, Billups was 5 of 14 for 21 points.
The series was 2-2, but Detroit would make it 3-2 with a dominating win, 83-65. Jermaine O'neal was hobbling, barely able to play, and Tinsley was out. The game was a complete disaster for the Pacers, who had trouble scoring and playing creditable defense. They were unable to stop Rip Hamilton, who had 30 points on 12 of 22 poings. Chauncey Billups was 2-7 for 7 points. The end was near for the Pacers.
I tuned in for the 6th game knowing that the Pacers standed little chance of winning. Jamaal Tinsley tried to play but simply couldn't. He went out with 9 minutes to go in the 1st and never returned. Indiana fought very hard, and actually looked as though they would win. But Ron Artest suffered a major breakdown and picked up a technical foul for throwing. He took several bad shots and Detroit got back into the game, and went on to win, 69-65. Indiana was done. Rip Hamilton was 7 of 15 for 21 points and Chauncey Billups was 2 of 13 for 10 points.
Now that sums up the season for Indiana vs. Detroit. The reason I bring up all those dates, and more importantly the stats for Billups and Hamilton, is to point out something. Before Rasheed Wallace came to town, the Pacers were able to shut down Billups and Hamilton. While in certain games of the ECF the Pacers were able to shut down Billups, they were never able to shut down Hamilton. Why can't they? Because of Rasheed Wallace. Before, the Pistons never had any other options other than Billups and Hamilton offensively. They would sometimes get larger contributions from thier bench, but after Wallace came to town, the Pistons found little use for their bench. Especially in the playoffs.
What I'm trying to say is that the key for Indiana to defeat Detroit, other than scoring more points than them, which a 4 year old could point out, would be to shut down Rip Hamilton. Which should be hard if he is truely the most well conditioned athlete in the NBA. If that is the case, then why were they able to before Sheed got there?
Now the Pistons have Antonio McDyess, Derrick Coleman, Ronald Dupree, and Carlos Delfino. They lost Corliss Williamson, Mike James, Mehmet Okur. The Pistons are still very solid, but they are also in a very bad situation should McDyess or Coleman either one go down with an injury. Consider this, Coleman and McDyess last season missed a combined 88 games due to injury. Dupree hasn't seen alot of playing time, and Delfino is still very unproven. Delfino was good in Europe, and has been compared to Manu Ginobili. If he is as good as they say he is, he will take alot of pressure off of Rip Hamilton to produce nightly. Which makes it even harder to beat this team.
Detroit is very deep, but they are also decreased as far as defense goes. Williamson was a key piece defensively. Coleman doesn't play defense at all, and McDyess at one point in his career was a great defender, he isn't what he once was. Those two players leave Detroit's bench weekend defensively. They are now better offensively, but this disrupts their identity as a defensive power house. This is where it makes it easier for Indiana to beat them.
Indiana lost Al Harrington and gained Stephen Jackson. Harrington's loss won't be that bad, this was a deal made to increase playing time for Jonathan Bender and Austin Croshere, as well as to gain a terrific outside shooter, and defender. Jackson will be able to keep up with the likes of Rip Hamilton, or atleast do a better job than Reggie Miller. He also improves the Pacers depth.
The Pacers have added some size, David Harrison is a big guy. He'll definetly play some minutes, and Scot Pollard could see an increased role with this team. They signed John Edwards from Kent State. If he stays on the team, his size, 7 foot, 275, could come in really handy. They have the size to deal with Shaq, and perhaps handle themselves downlow against the Pistons. Overall, the Pistons haven't gotten that much better. They are now very deep, so deep, they could become a log jam, and their bench has limited defensive capabilities, which will hurt them when they go up against Indiana, whose bench is very impressive. I can't wait to see the next Pacers/Pistons game.
The last thing I want to get off of my chest, is that the Pacers are going to be a higher scoring team next year. Rick Carlisle has already said that he plans on introducing a more fast break offense which will complement this team greatly. Aside from Reggie Miller, this team is very young and athletic, this will make this team all the more deadly. My prediction is that they will go 64 -18. They have such a great team, along with a great coach. I think this team is going to finish atop of the east again, and hopefully, they will bring home a championship, but I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm just looking forward to seeing their first televised game. But until then.... I'll continue to find reasons why the Pacers are better than the Pistons this season.