Who needs to step up?

Ben Wallace guards Shaquille O\'Neal
Drew Sharp doesn't think Ben Wallace is happy with his declining role (is it still declining, or has it become officially non-existent?) on offense, and he suggests that it may be affecting Wallace's performance on the court. From today's Free Press:

Ben Wallace's funks are becoming more noticeable, as well as the lapses in his signature perpetual intensity.

He turns it on when the mood strikes, suggesting that he's either deeply bothered with his complete removal from the Pistons' half-court offense or that there's a steadily dwindling reserve of energy in his tank.

He goes on to suggest that perhaps the Pistons would be better served with Ben spending more time on the bench:

There's certainly no cause for widespread panic because the Pistons find themselves in an early hole.

Isn't burying themselves with their own shovel part of their M.O.?

But there should be concern that the 4-on-5 offensive philosophy they've adopted this season might not cut it against a Miami team with more offensive weapons at its disposal this season.

There's no hiding Ben this time.

He's the pulse of the team. He sets the tempo, igniting the frenetic intensity that's defined this franchise's resurgence the last five years.

But if the offense continues to struggle, don't be surprised if Flip Saunders is left with no option but to give Antonio McDyess more of Ben's minutes in the remainder of this series.

Maybe it's me, but I just don't see the logic in this. Sure, perhaps things would be a little easier if Ben were a bit more productive on offense, but let's not forget why the Heat won this game: poor shooting.

Ben shot 3-3 from the field, but Rasheed Wallace shot 3-10, Antonio McDyess shot 3-7, Tayshaun Prince shot 5-13, Lindsey Hunter shot 1-7 and Chauncey Billups shot 6-19. As a team, the Pistons shot 37.8%. They did the little things like hitting their free throws (19-22) and protecting the ball (six turnovers), but they failed to do the big things, like finding the bottom of the bucket. Ben had nothing to do with that, and in fact gave his teammates extra chances to make it right, coming through with 14 rebounds (three offensive) and three steals, not to mention drawing an offensive foul on Dwayne Wade.

When the Pistons finally did grab the lead in the second half, they proceded to squander it with a series of jumpers. In the final 3:35 of the third quarter, the Pistons wasted a 60-57 lead by missing nine consecutive field goal attempts:

  1. Missed 15-footer by Rasheed, Pistons lead 60-57
  2. Missed 18-footer by Rip, Pistons lead 60-57
  3. Blocked layup by Chauncey, tie game 60-60
  4. Missed 16-footer by Rip, Heat lead 63-60
  5. Missed 24-footer by Rip, Heat lead 66-60
  6. Missed jumper by Rip, Heat lead 66-61
  7. Missed 26-footer by Lindsey, Heat lead 66-61
  8. Missed 26-footer by Rip, Heat lead 66-61
  9. Missed 18-footer by McDyess, Heat lead 66-61

That's seven shots from 15 feet and out. Sadly, it's even worse than it looks, because what that list doesn't reveal is that Detroit actually had three offensive boards mixed in that they failed to convert into a single point. The only point they scored in those three and a half minutes was a Tayshaun Prince free throw.

In that span, Ben came through with two defensive rebounds, and his presence down low helped prevent the Heat from coming inside: they scored their nine points on two three-pointers, a 20-footer and a free throw. Alonzo Mourning is just as dangerous in the paint defensively as Ben is, but that shouldn't stop the Pistons from even trying to go into the paint, especially considering the refs were for the most part dedicated to calling a tight (and fair) game.

If McDyess should be stealing anyone's minutes in this series, is should be those of Rasheed Wallace. After averaging 17.3 points in four regular season games against the Heat, Rasheed wilted with just seven to go along with a paltry three rebounds in 32 minutes. He didn't score his first point until well into the third quarter. Even just a couple of extra points in the first quarter would have made the difference, because, as I pointed out last night, the Pistons outscored Miami over the final three quarters. He was virtually invisible for most of the game. Whether that's the result of his bum ankle, general fatigue or a suddenly difficult matchup is irrelevant -- Flip Saunders needs to pull him if he's not producing. The Pistons have proven they can win playing 4-on-5 offense, but they sure as hell don't stand a chance playing 3-on-5. Even if he doesn't bring anything else on offense, Ben almost always brings energy, which is more than can be said for some of his fellow starters.

[Edit: MLive.com's Full-Court Press also took a look at Sharp's article, contrasting it with a piece by Charley Rosen on FOXSports.com:

Ben Wallace worked for everything he produced — 3-3, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 6 points. But he, too, is strictly a complimentary player. And with all of the pregame yapping about how Ben can (or cannot) contain Shaq with one-on-one defense, here's what happened when Wallace did exactly that: Shaq made 5-of-8 shots, was fouled three times (only one resulted in free throws, and he made 1-2), and had the ball poked away twice by Wallace. That's 11 points in 13 possessions — certainly a winning total for the Pistons.

When Shaq was doubled (mostly when Antonio McDyess was guarding him), he was 1-1, was fouled once (1-2), committed a turnover, and his out-passes resulted in his teammates shooting 0-4. That's 3 points in 6 possessions.

So apparently I'm not the only one who's appreciating Ben's contributions so far. And though it's not relevant to Rosen's piece, I'd also like to add that Ben shot 0-2 from the line, going to the line only once in the fourth quarter, when Miami pulled out the Hack-A-Ben (with the lead, no less). He can be an automatic turnover late in the games when he's forced to go the line, but that certainly wasn't the problem on Tuesday.]

Big Ben needs to chime [Detroit Free Press]
Pistons fall apart against rested Heat [FOXSports.com]

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