Saturday, November 19, 2005

70 Wins? Pistons Can Do No Wrong

My goodness, how many games can the Pistons win this season, anyway?

They’re 8-0 now, after leading the poor, undermanned Houston Rockets to believe they might actually end up winning their game with the Pistons Friday night. But the Pistons put another one in the left hand column, 78-70.

Watching the Pistons anymore is sort of like watching Roller Derby, or Pro Wrestling, or a movie you’ve seen a dozen times. It’s the same script: Pistons toy with their opponents, maybe even fall behind a little bit on occasion, then turn on the jets and clamp down defensively in the final several minutes, leaving the other guys gasping for air and wondering what hit them. It was the same script that was followed in the victory over the suddenly pedestrian Rockets.

The Pistons’ lead throughout the game was like bankers’ hours in reverse: 5-to-9. And everytime the Rockets crept near, the Pistons, with their killer starting five taking turns doing so, would make a few big shots, tap a ball away or block a shot, and extend their lead back to comfortable proportions. It’s been the same modus operandi, ever since Opening Night.

Back in the summertime, shortly after the team hired Flip Saunders as coach, I blogged that the onus/pressure wasn’t on Flip, but rather the players. This was their chance, I wrote, to prove to everyone that their success wasn’t entirely due to Larry Brown. It was also an opportunity, I droned, to have the tail wag the dog, so to speak. That is, I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with a little "inmates running the asylum" jazz going on in the Palace. The Pistons police themselves, and they’re about as tightly-knit of a group of basketball players as there is in the NBA today. It was much the same type of thing when Chuck Daly coached in Detroit. The players knew Daddy Rich was the coach, but they had their own internal checks-and-balances that worked so well with Daly’s style.

Well, the Pistons of today have answered my blogged bell, so to speak, and have almost made Flip Saunders invisible. Of course, that’s not literally true; Flip’s penchant for motion on offense and pushing the ball upcourt and feeding whatever hand is hot has been certainly evident. The Pistons no longer treat the 100-point mark as you and I would treat the ledge of a 100-story building. Friday’s low-scoring game notwithstanding, the Pistons are scoring more, yet their suffocating defense hasn’t gone away. I suppose we should give Flip Saunders credit for that, too -- fair is fair, after all.

I think what’s impressive to me about this bunch is they hardly ever get rattled, and they truly believe they will win everytime they step onto the court, and are genuinely surprised when they fail to do so. They treat the final five minutes of every fourth quarter as if they own them -- possessing copyrights on how they’re to be filled. Remember, this is a team that was perhaps a Rasheed Wallace brain fart and seven minutes away from winning back-to-back championships.

The players believe in Flip Saunders, but most importantly, they believe in themselves. And that’s what really matters in those final crucial minutes, when games can go either way. Mostly, they tilt in the Pistons’ favor, and that’s why Flip Saunders leapt at the chance to coach this group -- because there isn’t much to coach. Saves on the antacid, you know.

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