Monday, May 30, 2005

The Most Senior Heat Player Proves He Can Still Burn Opponents

The Pistons better keep an eye on Eddie Jones

When the Pistons lost control of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals last night, about midway through the fourth quarter, it wasn't Dwyane Wade or Shaquille O'Neal who triggered the comeback. It was that old Heat standby, Eddie Jones.

I believe the Pistons' downfall began when Jones, in his fifth season with the Heat and who typically led the team in scoring before Wade and Shaq came along, drained a three-pointer with his team trailing, 86-81. The Palace crowd was raucous, the Pistons were on a tear -- an 11-2 run to start the fourth -- and it looked like Wade was finally being reined in after slicing and dicing the Pistons for the first three quarters. Frankly, it appeared as if the Heat were losing their composure a bit. Alonzo Mourning had just picked up a technical foul.

But then Jones hit, making it 86-84, and even though the Pistons answered with a Tayshaun Prince put-back to make it 88-84, you got the sense that this game was far from over. Not only was it far from over, the Heat ended up blowing the Pistons out of the gym during the final six minutes, 32-18. During the onslaught, Jones drove the lane on the break for a layup, hit another jumper, and helped provide a calming influence that enabled his team to come out with a very impressive win that nudged them ahead, 2-1, in these Conference Finals.

Of course, Shaw hitting six consecutive free throws during that time frame didn't hurt the Heat cause, either. In fact, you can probably call it a tie: Eddie Jones' shooting and Shaq's free throwing both were the keys to the Heat's improbable win.

But back to Jones' triple. Basketball is a game of runs, as you know, and it's also a game of poise and confidence. Jones' shot, a catch-and-shoot dagger taken without evene firmly planting his feet, did three things: quieted the crowd, gave his team confidence, and reminded the Pistons that there were others to worry about than Wade and Shaq. Actually, the Heat won largely because they got contributions from many people, including Udonis Haslem, Keyan Dooling and Rasual Butler.

Despite all those weapons, I can't help but come back to 33 year-old Eddie Jones, who finished with 19 points, including 3-for-6 from behind the arc. When the Heat were lousy a few years ago, Jones was their only truly consistent offensive weapon, averaging around 18 points a game after spending four and a half seasons with the Lakers and a season and a half with Charlotte, where he earned the reputation of being a deadeye shooter. He's a graybeard now by NBA standards, but how young do you have to be to shoot the basketball?

The Pistons are in trouble now, for sure, though I fully expect them to respond with a Game 4 victory, and this Eastern Final will be 2-2, which is where most people suspected it would be going into Game 5 in Miami. But if the Pistons keep one eye on Wade and another on Shaq, that doesn't leave a peeper for Eddie Jones, the man who carries daggers in his backpack.

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