Thursday, June 01, 2006

With Their Backs Up Against It, Pistons Respond -- So What Else Is New?

If it wouldn't be so cumbersome, and if I were Flip Saunders, I'd have a mini brick wall attached to each one of my player's backs at all times. Maybe even a pretend cardboard one, for symbolism sake. That way they could still run around and function on the court.

The walls would serve their purpose, I'm sure, because that seems to be the only time the Pistons play at anywhere near 100% potential: When their backs are up against the wall. When the chips are down. When push comes to shove. When the going gets tough. When it's win or go home. And all that rot.

The Pistons played out of desperation -- again -- and won -- again: 91-78 over Miami, to creep closer in the Eastern Finals. They now trail 3-2. Backs still against wall. Push still coming to shove. Chips still down. It's still tough going.

"We're looking at this like a college tournament," Ben Wallace said. "Win or you're done."

But in college tourneys, you don't get the chance to teeter along at 3-6 for nine postseason games before deciding it might be time to play.

The Pistons are twitching, and while that might cause the Miami Heat a little bit of consternation, they should relax and remind themselves that if they play their best and the Pistons play with anything less than 100% interest -- and it's happened often in this series -- the Heat will make their first appearance in the NBA Finals.

BUT...the Pistons have facts on their side, and those facts are these: The Heat still are poised to eliminate Detroit, which means the Pistons are still desperate, which means they are once again cornered, which means...

Maybe the Heat should be a tad anxious, after all.

But Miami has Dwyane Wade, and I'm now convinced he's the closest thing to Michael Jordan since MJ retired. No offense to LeBron James, who may yet get there, but Wade inhabits his own stratosphere. He's the best player I've seen in a long time. He's simply phenomenal, and he's ratcheted up his game a notch in this series. He's playing, along with Shaquille O'Neal -- who also hasn't looked this good in years -- like a man possessed and very hungry for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. When they're both on, the Heat don't need as much help from their supporting cast as the talking heads on TV would have you believe -- especially in Miami. Two really can beat five sometimes.

But that's mainly because the Pistons' five have been underachievers to the nth degree. They have turned into the Gang Who Couldn't Shoot Straight. Their trademark weapon -- the three-point dagger -- is lost somewhere, maybe misplaced in the bottom of one of the team's equipment trunks.

Tayshaun Prince has been the Pistons' rescuer in their two victories, and he dug up the triple dagger at a time when the team needed it most last night -- late in the fourth quarter, the Heat making one of their runs, creeping to within 79-76. An attempted layup by Rip Hamilton swatted away. But right into the hands of Prince.

One dagger into the heart later, the Pistons were ahead 82-76.

Game 6 on.

Why, oh why, Lindsey Hunter was asked, do the Pistons always seem to know WHAT to do, but don't always actually DO IT?

"I don't know," he said. "It's like when you keep telling a baby not to do something, and he does it anyway. We're kind of like that."

Million Dollar Babies.

See ya in South Beach. But will the Heat return to Michigan with the Pistons?

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