[In hindsight, attempting to do a real-time recap for every playoff game was a bad decision, at least for the first-round. Why? Because this first-round matchup against the Bucks has all the intensity of an preseason scrimmage. The game was boring, there's no way around it, and as I read through this recap, I realize it's boring, as well. Usually when I write something this bad I just scrap it all and start over, but I took all these notes, see? And I wanted to put them to use, so I forged ahead until it was too late. I made it to halftime, but I'll be surprised if you do.]
Given the number of times NBA players jump up and down in any given game, I think it's actually remarkable how few times one guy lands on another guy's foot. With that in mind, I didn't harbor any ill-will toward Andrew Bogut, even if I have seen the replay of Rip Hamilton landing on the big Aussie's foot 75 times by now. But as Hamilton came onto the court just before tip-off, I couldn't help but notice that Bogut was the first Bucks player to walk up to him for a fist-bump. It could have been a complete coincidence, but I'm giving Bogut the benefit of the doubt, because the first thing that entered my mind was that it was a classy thing for him to do.
On to the game...
9:24 -- Rip Hamilton drains a jumper, fighting off contact to the body that probably should have been called a foul. He hasn't touched the ball very many times yet, but so far he's looking good. That's a great sign -- it's tough to say whether all this talk about his ankle is real or whether it's just been over-covered in the media for lack of better storylines.
8:37 -- Michael Redd drives to the hoop but double-pumps following a jump stop before shooting. As a result, Rasheed Wallace comes through with an easy block. Methinks Redd is still a bit tentative after his embarrassing 11-point night last Sunday.
6:55 -- Ben Wallace gets the ball in the post and drives to the basket; hilarity (for Milwaukee fans) ensues as he dribbles the ball off his foot. In other news, the sun still rises in the East.
6:38 -- Sheed feeds the ball to Tayshaun Prince low in the post, and Tay immediately lays it in. It's been said a thousand times before, but it needs to be said a thousand times again: Prince's wingspan has to be one of the longest in the entire league. He is flat-out dominant when he's able to cut toward the post and catch the ball in the paint. I wish the Pistons would just run this play for an entire game just to see how many points Prince could score, because I'm guessing his field-goal percentage would be well over 70%.
5:50 -- Yikes, Jamaal Magliore, aka The Big Canuck, bricks a shot from 18 feet out. I don't think that's what the Bucks had in mind when they traded for the 6-11 center last summer.
5:45 -- Coming out of a commercial, I just realized why Ben looks a little funny tonight -- he's not wearing his usual headband, a look which makes his 'fro seem even bigger. I wonder if Sheed and Rip are mad at Ben for joining the headband-less Tay and Chauncey.
5:20 -- Ben bricks a 12-foot jumper. Meanwhile, kids across American still don't like vegetables.
4:50 -- OK, so Bogut just committed a defensive foul on Chauncey, but you know what I'm slowly starting to realize? When Bogut is on the court, you just notice him. It's not because he's white, and it's not because he's a white guy wearing black tights, he's just... active. He touches the ball on offense, he gravitates toward the ball on defense (which isn't to say his defense is all that great, because it's not, but he's always around). He's not always doing the right thing (this foul, for instance), but there are a lot of players who seem to specialize in not being noticed when they're on the court. Bogut isn't one of those. And even though he's still a little rough around the edges, he's a far better athlete than I had given him credit for.
4:36 -- Ben feeds a streaking Rip in the middle of the lane, leading to a rare tomahawk-esque jam from Rip, who really showed some ups. Yeah, I'm guessing his ankle is feeling alright. How did Rip get so open? The replay shows Michael Redd drifting over to double-team Chauncey Billups... who doesn't have the ball and is still behind the three-point line. Yikes.
3:40 -- Rip just abused T.J. Ford down low, backing him down for a short jumper. Rip has never been called "bulky" in his life, but he's got 30 pounds (easy) on Ford. I know Ford is quick, but he's a huge defensive liability any time he's on the court, at least against the Pistons. Even when he's guarding Billups, his own man, it's a complete mismatch. And when he gets switched off on a taller guy like Rip or, heaven forbid, Tay, you may as well just put the points on the board without waiting for the shot to drop. Even on offense, I've yet to see Ford use his quickness to his advantage -- he certainly lacks the court vision to really distribute the ball.
2:30 -- Redd just hits for his 10th point of the game. Not a bad quarter, considering it's practially what he managed all of Sunday night.
2:18 -- Cripes, Rip landed on another foot, twisting his ankle yet again. It didn't look that bad, but considering he brought a bum wheel into the game. He's walks gingerly to the bench; I throw up a little in my mouth.
1:38 -- Here's a perfect microcosm of why so many fans are so hot and cold on Lindsey Hunter: he forces the steal and pushes the ball upcourt, but unfortunately loses any chance for fast break points when he bobbles the ball and has to chase after it. He regains possession and lobs a pass to Tayshaun, but it's a bit too soft and ends up getting poked out of bounds. Now, it's still a Pistons possession, but after making a great play (the steal), Hunter has nearly turned the ball over twice. Hunter eventually gets the ball back after the in-bounds but missed a layup. That goes down in the box score as a steal and a missed field goal, but with even an average handle he could have gotten the Pistons a couple of points. Considering he forced the steal in the first place, I don't want to harp on him too much, but if you can't rely on your veteran backup point guard to dribble the ball upcourt or make a crisp pass, who can you rely on?
0:28 -- Tay tips in his own miss right at the basket; I'm telling you, he's dominant there... so why is he scoring just his fifth and sixth points of the game? I'm serious, I can't think of one good reason why getting him the ball down low shouldn't be the team's bread-and-butter play.
0:05 -- With just a few ticks left on the clock, Redd feeds Magliore the ball in the post, just to see the Big Canuck fumble it away. Eh, what's it matter. The Bucks are already down nine, and it's downhill from here...
End of quarter. Pistons 32, Bucks 23
The quarter starts with Rip planted firmly on the bench with a great big bandage wrapped around his lower leg...
10:34 -- George Blaha: "Ben powers up with the ball..." You just don't see many guys airball a layup, but Ben's a special player.
10:03 -- This is getting ridiculous: Tay hits another layup down low. He has eight points. I'm telling you, Detroit's supposed problem with scoring points in the paint could be solved if they'd just pay more attention to Tay.
Interesting tidbit: during a stop in action, Eli Zaret informs us that Detroit hasn't swept a playoff series since 1990. How long ago was that? I just checked: Wilson Phillips was asking us to "Hold On" for one more day, Bel Biv Devoe was telling us the girl was "Poison," and Billy Idol was rocking the "Cradle of Love." Yikes.
9:40 -- Bogut comes through with a big jam, which I'm actually shocked to hear was good for just his fourth point of the game. The man hasn't been scoring points, but he's been active.
9:10 -- Charlie Bell hits a three. Somewhere, Mateen Cleaves is squirming in his seat.
8:40 -- Bogut gets another dunk, which cuts the Pistons lead to four: 36-32. I think the Pistons are getting as bored as I am with this game.
8:35 -- Here's a reason to get up: Rip just re-entered the game. Either his injury isn't all that bad or Flip Saunders took a look at the scoreboard and panicked. I honestly don't know which.
8:00-ish -- 15 years ago, could you have pictured a more unlikely women's basketball coach than Bill Laimbeer? And Rick Mahorn is on his staff! Nothing against the WNBA, but I hope Laimbeer gets that NBA head coaching job he's so obviously prepping for because I die a little death every time I hear him say something about how exciting the upcoming season should be.
7:48 -- Rip comes through with a nice block, but in his effort to save the ball from going out of bounds he feeds it back to the Bucks, who score and cut the lead down to four. One possession later, Bell hits a layup to bring the Bucks within two. This is the point in the game I should be on the edge of my seat with a sick feeling in my stomach. Instead, I'm getting drowsy, looking at my watch and giving serious thought to stop my note-taking at halftime. There is no way the Pistons are losing this game, they're just letting the Bucks enjoy a nice little run before stomping on their throats. It's so predictable I'm already bored.
5:15 -- Mo Evans hits a three from the corner... the same spot where every other three-pointer he's made has come from. (OK, I don't know that for a fact, but it sure seems that way.)
4:25 -- Sheed comes through with a huge block on Bobby Simmons, which keys a fast break the other direction led by... I don't know. For some reason, the production crew thought it necessary to suddenly zoom in on Sheed's face as he stands there and watches his teammates instead of following the ball. Eventually it cuts back to Evans running the floor and getting fouled. I hate camera work like this -- it's like in football when they bite on the play-action and follow the running back before jerking back to focus on the quarterback just before he throws the ball.
3:33 -- Evans hits a three from his spot in the corner, which George Blaha is now calling his "danger zone." Great, now for the rest of the night I'll have the Top Gun soundtrack running through my head...
2:43 -- Magliore dunks, but by the time he methodically turns around to head up court, the Pistons have in-bounded the ball and initiated one of those "while you were sleeping" fast breaks, which McDyess caps off with a dunk. Kenny Loggins croons, "Gonna take you right into the danger zoooone..."
1:53 -- Chauncey hits a three, the Pistons are suddenly up 15, 56-41. Since getting within two, the Bucks have been outscored 20 to 5. I stifle a yawn.
1:40 -- During a stoppage in play, Shirtless 8-year-old Kid is going nuts in the audience, dancing in an aisle while waving around a jersey he just took off.You see this kid all the time at games -- I don't know if it's actually a different kid each time (kids under the age of 12 kind of look alike to me)(heck, kids under the age of 12 kind of look the same age to me) or if it's always the same one (lucky season-ticket-having bastard), but there's always one kid each game who takes his shirt off and waves it around during a timeout. Well, this time Hooper, the mascot, happens to be nearby, and he starts dancing with Shirtless 8-year-old Kid. As this is happening, a referee spots some blood on Rasheed Wallace's jersey and forces Wallace to change it at midcourt. The women are cheering, people are whistling, yada yada yada. But now Hooper is so wrapped up in the moment that he takes of his shirt, too. So now you have a Shirtless 8-year-old Kid going nuts dancing with a grown man dressed up like a Shirtless Horse... and it's probably the most interesting thing to happen in the game so far.Which is an understament, since it's probably one of the most awkward moments of the season. I know it's all innocent, good fun, but I still have "Danger Zone" going through my head, and I'm suddenly feeling reeealllly uncomfortable about how this whole little exchange reminded me of Maverick and Goose playing volleyball with Slider and Ice Man.
1:20 -- Tayshaun hits another shot down low, which prompts Laimbeer to point out that the Bucks don't have anyone on the team that can guard him.
0:40 -- Tayshaun hits a three -- he's the complete package!
End of quarter. Pistons: 61. Bucks: 48. My will to live: steadily decreasing.
So that's all you get. I took a few more notes in the second half, the most notable of which being Laimbeer noting how slow the crowd was filtering back to their seats soon after the third quarter started, how there was a lack of emotion in the building and on the floor. This game was flat-out boring. While the Bucks should show a bit more life in the next game while playing their first match on their home court, it's a bit annoying that we have to wait another three days for it to happen.
The Pistons won 109-98, with Tay leading the way with 22 points on 9-14 shooting. Despite entering the game on a bum ankle and aggravating the injury during the game, Rip still played 33 minutes, scoring 18 on 7-12 shooting while leading the team with eight assists (at least half of which, I'm guessing, came off alley-oops). Saunders said after the game that the danger of sitting Hamilton too long was that his ankle might get stiff and he wouldn't be able to return. Since the Bucks crept back to within two with Rip on the bench, I can see why Saunders was concerned about playing without him, but why was he (along with so many other starters) still in the game in the final minutes? I have a hunch all of the starters could have sat out the final quarter and the Boys in Blue still would have won handedly.
As for Bogut, I must say I'm impressed. He only scored eight points on a dismal 3-10 shooting, but he grabbed 13 boards and dished four assists. The guy was active and involved, which is more than what can be said for the likes of fellow Bucks big men Magliore, Simmons (most of the time) and Joe Smith.
Following another Sheed block in the third quarter, the production crew did the same "zoom in close on his face" thing while ignoring the fast break for a few moments. That got me thinking, do you think there's always a camera somewhere in the building zoomed in on Sheed's face? You know, just in case? I wouldn't be surprised, because there's not a player in this league this side of Ron Artest that's worth watching all night on the off chance "just in case" happens.