Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"A Series Breaks Out" -- And The Pistons Believe Again

Billups helped "x out" the Spurs in Game 3

Well, the Pistons stomped the Spurs last night, just as I thought they might, and even though I hate to quote from anyone on TV, ABC's Al Michaels hit it dead on when he said, "And just like that, a series breaks out."

Oh yes, indeed.

Aside from the hope that the Pistons' 96-79 win will quiet some of the national media's love-in with the Spurs, who Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star called "one of the best teams the NBA has ever produced", the victory had enough ingredients to it that the Pistons' confidence should be restored and the Spurs' should take a slight hit.

I saw a nice little trap, which had been mostly absent in San Antonio. I saw forced turnovers, another missing piece in Texas. I also saw Pistons shots actually go into the basket, which was another vast difference from the games in San Antone. But mostly I saw a team that believes in itself again.

This mission is far from accomplished -- no doubt about that. Winning Game 3 is meaningless, basically, if the Pistons don't also capture Game 4. But a chink has been put into the Spurs' armor, and Manu Ginobili, supposedly the best player since Michael Jordan, if you listen to Bill "Frontrunner" Walton, had the "coming down to earth" game that was also sorely needed, if you're a Pistons booster. But the mission is also well under way in Auburn Hills, and now it will be up to the Spurs to match the Pistons' intensity.

In pro sports, half the battle can be the simple belief that your opponent is beatable. And I'm not sure the Pistons truly believed that until late in the third quarter of Game 3.

As Spurs coach Gregg Popovich -- who I like and respect, by the way, mainly because he's not that loudmouth, sore loser Stan Van Gundy -- said, the game last night was 63-63 with about 1:30 left in the third quarter. Then the Pistons pressed, got some turnovers and some more fast break points, and suddenly it was 71-63 Detroit. Things only got worse from there for the Spurs. But up to that point, the Spurs were still driving the lane, still draining three-pointers, and basically refusing to wilt to the hostile Palace environment. Those last couple minutes of the third and the first few minutes of the fourth might -- might -- be the turning point of this series, should the Pistons climb up and over the Spurs. It was a window where the Pistons believed again, and received a jolt of adrenaline and confidence as dramatic as if someone plunged a six-inch syringe directly into their heart.

No, mission far from over, but if the Pistons take the Spurs to the woodshed in Game 4, not only will a series have broken out, it will have spread, like a bad rash. And Game 5 is in Detroit, too -- hardly the antihistamine the Spurs will need for such a rash.

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