Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Pistons Played Two Opponents Last Night: The Heat, And Fatigue

From 1987 to 1991, the Pistons made five straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. Also in that time frame, they went to three consecutive NBA Finals.

Sprinkled in that run were some grueling, emotional, gut-wrenching seven-game series -- some the Pistons won, some they did not.

Anyhow, by the time the team fought through -- for the umpteemth time -- the Boston Celtics to make it back to the conference finals in 1991, it was spent. There was nothing left in the tank.

The Chicago Bulls, tired of the Pistons being their white whale for three straight playoffs, drummed Detroit out in four coldhearted games on their way to their first league championship.

The general consensus was that the Pistons, players of so many games for so many springs, had finally had all that basketball catch up to them. Besides, it was finally the Bulls' time.

Listening to the shrieking on sports talk radio today, there was actually some astute analysis hiding, I discovered, among all the panic-driven bleatings.

Have the Pistons, perhaps, played too much basketball since 2003? And is it now beginning to catch up to them?

There's no question that the greatest culprit in last night's 91-86 Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat was one that cannot be masked, typically: fatigue. If the Heat was ever going to win a game at the Palace in these conference finals, Game 1 would most likely be it. The Heat were rested and eager. The Pistons were worn and hungover. The Cleveland series had its expected effect.

That the Pistons were able to muster a 16-3 run for a 60-55 lead midway through the third quarter is a testament more to their will than to their tired bodies. And, sure enough, the big "F" reappeared, in the form of 12 straight missed shots and a 69-61 Heat lead.

This is not to say that the Pistons are done in this series. Far from it. But it does mean that a return trip to the NBA Finals -- it would be their third straight date in June -- is less certain than we believed in February.

But the remedy is simple to say: Hit your #$!#! shots! It's less easy to do -- especially on tired legs.

The NBA is a funny league. They reserve all the days off between games and needless rest for the first two rounds, then when the stakes are higher, they play at the rapid, every-other-night rate. Those two or three days off between games that we snickered at in the Milwaukee and Cleveland series look awfully nice now, don't they?

The Pistons, I believe, will bounce back -- those superballs that they are -- and win Game 2. This series is probably going to go the distance again, folks, so buckle up.

And everyone gather their No-Doz and Vivarin and leaded coffee and mail it to Four Championship Drive, Auburn Hills, pronto.

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