The Nets came to the Palace for what was supposed to be a relatively easy win for the Pistons. "Easy," because despite a comfortable lead in the pathetic Atlantic division, Jersey was only 16-19 on the road coming in, and the Pistons were 30-2 at home. This one should not have been an L, but the Pistons dropped the ball, 79-74.
The Nets jumped out to a 14-4 lead to start the game, and the deficit was up to 23-10 after one. But the Pistons battled back in the second quarter behind some inspired play by Antonio McDyess and Tony Delk. At the half, only down three, all looked to be good with the world. Outside of that horrendous opening stretch, the defense looked its active and disruptive norm (recent norm, anyway). And with the bench supplying a scoring punch sorely lacking for much of the season, the Boys in Blue were back on track for a second comeback.
But the good news ended there for the Pistons. After ending the third quarter with a run to tie the game at 56, the Pistons All-Stars failed to follow the bench’s lead. Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace, normally clutch three-point threats down the stretch, shot a combined 3 of 21 from the field for the game. Both repeatedly came up empty during several possessions to tie or take the lead in the fourth. To be blunt, this one falls on the shoulders of the starters. The Piston bench is there to supplement their All-Star starting five, and they did that tonight far beyond their game-to-game capability. With just a slighly below average performance from either Chauncey or Sheed, this game would have tipped towards the Pistons. But Blue simply couldn’t withstand poor nights from two of their top scorers and a 9 of 27 shooting night from Rip. It is unfortunate that they couldn't pull it out for the bench.
Not all the news coming from this game is bad. Yes, it was a loss -- and to the hated Nets, no less. But the bench finally broke through with a performance indicative of what could be. If this is even half of the Dyess we can expect to see for the remainder of the season and into the post-season, then the Pistons have a perfect compliment to Ben’s D and Sheed’s perimeter fetishes. For the game, Dyess finished with 11 points and an incredible 18 boards. ESPN’s Greg Anthony and Tim Legler were amazed at the explosion his step, remarking more than once that he looked like his pre- knee surgery self.
Other subplots worth noting: Maurice Evans -- who we recently surmised had taken Carlos "Miami f’n Vice" Delfino’s rotation spot -- pulled down the dreaded DNP-CD tonight, his first of the season. While "Vice" only saw six minutes of floortime himself, he did have time to contribute a block and a steal while drawing the unenviable task of guarding Vince Carter.
Also, the Pistons string of offensive woes continued with a 34% shooting night (including 3 of 17 from three). Offensive rebounds -- of which the Pistons pulled down 17 -- made this game much closer than it could have been down the stretch. It seems that as of late, championship defense and efficient -- even just adequate -- offense is an either/or proposition. The Pistons have not played a complete game in some time.
Finally, continuing with our recent theme of NBA look-alikes, Nets coach Lawrence Frank makes the list. Who knew he could shift gears and become a serviceable NBA coach after all those years as a child MD. I almost didn't recognize him with the haircut and the chin fuzz.