I was a bit confused when I joined the Pistons/Sixers game tonight midway through the first quarter.
Not only were the Pistons already comfortably ahead, thanks to some early offense Tay Tay; and not only was Brent Musburger referring to Mr. Big Shot as "Chauncey Phillips"; but what truly wreaked havoc on my mind for a good ten seconds, the Boys in (usually) Blue were wearing those damn red alternate road jerseys again.
Anyways, on the first point, Matt and I both had concerns leading into this game, so the early lead was a pleasant surprise. Why worry? Well, after last night’s big win over the Mavs a letdown would not have been surprising, especially playing on the road for the second of the back-to-back. When you factor in that the Sixers are supposedly a desparate squad trying their best to stay afloat in the EC playoff race...well, I'll stop making excuses. Needless to say, we were wrong. The Boys in… Red quickly stifled fears and casually stomped the outworked and overmatched 76ers, 101-91.
Despite shooting only 36% (to the Sixers' almost 50%) in the first quarter, the Pistons still led by five. How? They forced turnovers; they hit the glass; and they ended up with 10 more shot opportunities in the quarter -- a remarkable stat for 12 minutes. That frenzied first quarter effort, missing in many of their games this month, allowed the Piston bench to take over for most of the second. And at the half, up six, the Pistons were practically boarding the team plane for Auburn Hills -- this one was over. After toying with the Sixers in the third, even allowing them to cut the lead to one possession at various points, the coffin lid was slammed shut with a 10-0 run to start the fourth. For the game, the Pistons grabbed 18 offensive boards and forced 19 Philly turnovers -- more than enough to counter the usual damage done by Allen Iverson (28 points, 5 assists) and Chris Webber (23 points, 5 boards, 4 assists), as well as some less-than-usual contributions from Kyle Korver and Shavlik Randolph.
The 101 points scored by Pistons was their best offensive output in 7 games, and the scoring was widely distributed amongst the entire rotation. While none of the starters had a particularly good shooting night (they combined to shoot barely 40%), the bench again picked up the shooting slack, including one Lindsey Benson Hunter, Jr. Lindsey -- the frequent subject of my post-game rants (99% of the time, deserved) -- staved off extinction for yet another night, scoring a season-high 9 points and managing to shoot 50% in a game for the first time in the last 7 years.
[Okay, so it's only been 12 games, but it feels like 7 years. Folks, he raised his season shooting percentage to 29% tonight, so no, I'm not being too hard on him.]
As amazingly adequate as Lindsey’s performance was, it paled in comparison to the continued resurgence of Antonio McDyess. McDyess, with 18 points (on 9-12 shooting), 7 boards, 3 assists, and a block, continues to have his best statistical month of the season. I’m convinced that Dyess has sold his soul to Damon Jones, because his play of late has been beyond inspired. Not only is his shooting back up over 50% for the season (after shooting only 37% for the month of November, and facing an uphill climb since), but he has been a much more intimidating defensive presence inside as well with over 9 boards and a block per game over his last five. It is no longer the case that the team suffers on D when Ben Wallace sits. And lately -- given Big Ben’s futile attempts at offense, I’m not sure the team doesn’t gain a bit when Dyess steps to the floor for brief stretches. That's not a knock on Ben, but Dyess is currently the hot hand.
With this win, the Pistons have swept the season series from Philly, 3-0, and improved their overall record to 57-14 will 11 games to play. The Pistons are back home on Friday night to face the Milwaukee Bucks, another fringe playoff team, before a big game against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
Well is he, or isn't he?
Sure, we had already written the post-mortem on Carlos Delfino's days in the Piston rotation, assuming that Maurice Evans had absconded with his spot. But there was Miami Vice last night, once again inserted into the game ahead of Mo. Before tonight's game, Vice had played more minutes in each of the last three games. Could Flip be flopping on his previous rotation decisions? Well, before you (and by you, I really mean Matt and I) get all giddy at the thought of Delfino guarding Dwayne Wade in the playoffs, keep a close eye on his playing time after tonight's game. Flip was pretty quick with the hook after Vice left Kyle Korver open for a second quarter three, and Mo Evans responded with energy. Delfino may have put himself back into the dog house with one poor play.
Warning, irresponsible speculation ahead: It's no secret that Mo Evans is Flip's guy. But Delfino is the sole remaining tangible asset from Dumars’ heralded 2003 draft class (now that you-know-who has shuffled on). The conspiracy theorist in me wonders whether those above Flip have silently pushed for Delfino to continue to see minutes. It makes sense. At some point, the Pistons are going to have to develop some young talent, right? Evans' game -- bountiful but somewhat spastic energy, the occasional three ball, and jump-out-the-gym hops -- is probably close to peaked at the ripe old age of 27 . But Delfino has played barely an entire season's worth of NBA games and is still only 23 years old. Now I know 23 is ancient in today's NBA, but it still offers the potential for further development.
And, let's remember, he almost punched Jerry Stackhouse -- that has to be worth something, right?
Pistons 101, Sixers 91 [ESPN]