Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pistons Screw Up The Fourth, So Now They Must Plead The Fifth

I thought only the Red Wings were supposed to do this to the denizens around town.

I thought only the Red Wings played with fire with inferior playoff opponents, either letting them back into series in which they do not belong, or losing the series altogether.

I thought only the Red Wings caused folks to wake up the morning after a loss that shouldn't have been, precipitating a sharp increase in the sales of antacids, razor blades, and nooses.

Now the Pistons are monkeying around in the postseason.

Their second round series with the Cleveland Cavaliers is tied 2-2 because the fourth quarter was once again 12 minutes of horror. Instead of squeezing the life out of the Cavs, as is their wont, the Pistons put their boots down and hit the brake pedal instead of the gas.

The Cavs are in the series, and they did it without any LeBron James histrionics. He only made a couple field goals in the second half. Did the Michael Jordan Bulls -- pre-championships -- ever win a playoff game when MJ played so poorly? Would the Bad Boys have ever let him?

The Pistons will still win this series, so from that standpoint they differ from the Red Wings. Because when the Wings get into a 2-2 situation with a lower seed, it's a crap shoot. And the Red Wings typically crap out.

Yes, the Pistons will win -- probably in six games -- but if you look at the last 20 or so games of the regular season, they haven't been as "money in the bank" in the late going as much as we have been accustomed. Sometimes they flick the switch, and find that the breaker has been turned off.

I remember in 1985, when the Pistons went up against the vaunted Celtics in a second rounder, and after dropping the first two in Boston, the Pistons returned home and, playing in Joe Louis Arena, won both games in Detroit to square the series. In one of those home games, Terry Tyler was unconscious in the fourth quarter. In the other, Vinnie Johnson burned the Celts in the fourth. So much so, that Danny Ainge coined the "Microwave" nickname.

"If that guy in Chicago [William Perry] is the Refrigerator, then Vinnie Johnson is The Microwave," Ainge told the press afterward.

The Celtics dumped the Pistons out in six games -- the underdog being a team who was cutting its playoff teeth.

This series is similar, and the end result will be the same, but the Pistons need to quit messing around in the fourth quarter and get back to what has made them so successful: ball movement, defensive aggressiveness, and rebounding. Simple basketball -- but they do it better than anyone when they're on. And they certainly do it better than the Cavs -- even when Cleveland is "on."

Could this series possibly go the seven-game limit? It could, but only if the Pistons let it happen. This is still about what they do or don't do -- not about what the Cavs do or don't do. Arrogant? Cock-sure? Absolutely. It's just what those Celtics teams used to say in the 1980's. And, mostly, they were dead-on accurate.

And by the way, it's not a "best-of-three". It is mathematically, but the best-of-three cliche insinuates that the first four games didn't happen. Trends and attacks and counterattacks have emerged through Games 1 thru 4. It's still a best-of-seven. The first to win two more games wins the series.


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