Thursday's match between the Pistons and Heat was one of those rare hyped-up games that actually lives up to its billing. I'm sure fans in Miami will disagree, but it was a well-played contest from start to finish, and the Pistons had the slight edge all night. They led by one at halftime and by seven after three, and after letting Miami make a run to pull even late in the fourth, they held the Heat scoreless over the final two minutes until Shaquille O'Neal padded his points with a meaningless dunk with two seconds left.
Unfortunately, the game didn't feature a parade of Pistons big men to bang with Shaq like Flip Saunders suggested would happen -- mark down two more DNP's for Dale Davis and Darko Milicic -- but there was no need. Shaq did his damage -- he finished with 26 points and six boards -- but no one else not named Dwyane Wade or Jason Williams really factored into the game for the Heat.
And besides, Wallace and Wallace were holding their own -- Ben's block on Shaq that led to Tayshaun Prince's fast break may have been my favorite play of the game, but Rasheed's crafty "body up then take two steps back" move that led to a traveling call on Shaq was a close second. I loved that move when Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer did it, and I love it just as much now -- it just makes the other guy look so . . . dumb.
Not that Shaq needs help looking dumb, especially making post-game comments like this:
"We had the game all the way, we just made a lot of silly mistakes down the stretch," O'Neal said. "You can't do that against a team like Detroit.
"They are the same as last year. They can be beat."
Had the game all the way? How did Shaq manage to play in this game yet watch another? Dude must be a magician. Or some kind of genie.
Wade was a stud with 33 points, nine assists and six rebounds, but he committed two key offensive fouls late and was flustered by stifling Tayshaun Prince defense on the final two possessions. Like Shaq, he seemed bitter, even if his coach had a better big-picture view:
The numbers only added to the frustration that already was high for Wade because of another physical run-in with Richard Hamilton. Wade was called for back-to-back offensive fouls while Hamilton defended him in the fourth quarter -- a trend that started last season when Hamilton attempted to defend Wade by draping his body on him as often as possible.
''I think that's the main thing, he has his body on me all the time,'' Wade said. "And that's fine. But if they let him play that way, let me play the same way. That's something that doesn't happen, so that's the only thing that gets annoying.''
But Riley can't wait to see his team in more games such as this. He would just like the result to change.
''I want our team to get used to playing in these kinds of games with that kind of competition,'' Riley said. "I hate the loss, but I like the competition.''
Big surprise: Gary Payton was useless. I said Thursday The Mitten would be irrelevant, and, well, he was: he had five points in 31 minutes while allowing Rip Hamilton to score 25 with nine assists and MVP candidate Chauncey Billups to score 30 with seven. Was he guarding those two the whole game? Not at all, but it's only fair to mention him since Riles was all about his defensive "moxie" before the game.
As if watching one washed up veteran wasn't enough, we were also subjected to 15 minutes from Antoine Walker, who chucks up threes like he's a poor (and fat) man's Rasheed Wallace. Unfortunately for Heat fans, he made 1-of-2 three-pointers tonight, which will only encourage him and result in more 0-for-5 nights like Tuesday against the Bucks.
On a more serious note, Rasheed will be able to close a tragic chapter of his life on Friday. From the News:
Rasheed Wallace boarded one of owner Bill Davidson's charter jets after the game Thursday. He flew to Philadelphia for the funeral of his cousin, Tyree Wallace, who was killed last week. The funeral was scheduled for early today. Wallace will then meet the Pistons in Cleveland tonight and, barring complications, play in the game Saturday.
The Pistons take on the Cavaliers on Saturday. Here's to hoping Bron Bron will still be hungover after turning 21 on Friday.
Pistons 106, Heat 101 box score [ESPN]
Chauncey, Dirk are league's leading men so far [ESPN]
Loss leaves Heat with empty feeling [Miami Herald]
Harper likens Pistons to 72-win Bulls team [Detroit News]