Last night's game in a nutshell -- the Boys in Blue went into a hostile environment in Miami and came out with the W, 95-82, their sixth in a row. In contrast to the Heat, who received 29 and 28 from Dwane Wade and Kazaam, respectively, the Pistons were again balanced in their efforts. While paced in the points column by Mr. Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Price (with 20 apiece), Tony Delk also chipped in with 12 off the bench (on 6-7 shooting); Rip had 19 and pushed Wade to near insanity; and Chauncey heated up in the second half, finishing with 14 and 9 dimes.
But the real star of the night was Big Ben Wallace. The abuse that man takes in order to allow the Pistons to avoid double-teaming Kazaam is beyond amazing. A 6 points, 9 boards night for Ben is fairly pedestrian on paper, but time after time he was bowled over only to pop right back up (sound familiar?). Anyways, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Ben used sparingly tonight against Darko and the Magic. He's gonna be a little sore.
Beyond the numbers though, there are a few subplots that re-emerged last night. With less than two weeks to go before the start of the postseason, a few things are abundantly clear with regards to the Pistons and the Heat .
1.) The Heat are toast, and they represent no threat to the Pistons for the Eastern Conference crown (now Jersey, on the other hand...).
If last night's game is any indication of the mindset of the Heat -- and of course it is -- Miami is so worried about beating the Pistons physically -- and the refs verbally -- that they've sacrificed their cool and ceded the psychological edge in the rivalry. Wade and Kazaam led some nice runs to pull Miami close in the second half, but when it came to creeping over the top, the Heat folded. Here was Wade being goaded into a foul by Rip Hamilton and accosting the ref afterwards (a move that probably would have resulted in Sheed's ejection). Here was Kazaam, drawing two offensive fouls in the game, and from there on out feeling invinceable to the refs whistle (complaining on both ends of the court, for and against foul calls). Here was Wade again, failing to draw a foul on a jumper after he clearly initiated contact -- and then lingering on that end of the floor to bitch and moan, while Rip promptly sank a bucket in his absense (further emphasizing the lapse).
The Heat were so caught up in their game with the refs, that they let the Boys in Blue run away with the game on the scoreboard, and that is the difference between these two teams. The Pistons whine to the refs...a lot, but they never forget to win the game.
2.) It is perfectly clear that the Heat's offseason overhaul of everyone not named Wade or Kazaam has failed.
With Jason Williams on the bench for the rest of the regular season, only 2/3 of Pat Riley's big-name pickups were in action, Gary Payton (Ed. Note -- "The Mitten") and Antoine Walker. Methinks the Heat would have been better off if those two would have taken a seat for this one as well. Payton and Walker combined to shoot 5-21 (0-7 from three), leaving Wade and Kazaam really no choice but to make it a game of 2-on-5.
During the third and fourth quarters, I was initially stunned to see Wade shunning his teammates, hogging the ball and forcing difficult jumpers. But when you consider the play of his supporting cast (not including Kazaam, who was dominant on O) Wade was well within reason. Nonetheless, those comparisons of Wade to MJ -- my stated hatred of MJ aside -- are going to have to wait for a few more years. Wade, when angry, is taken out of his game far too easily. If Jordan was an assassin, Wade is still a thug.The old-school definition, not the overused hip-hop definition. Both have the means to do the dirt, but Jordan could do it without a flinch or hint of emotion. It'll take a couple more years before Wade acsends to that level, but I'm afraid to admit that I think he will -- Piston fans have seen the signs firsthand.
3.) Flip unveils his post-season rotation.
Recently we had become accustomed to seeing Flip rest his starters, relying more upon his bench as the regular-season drew to a close. Not last night. This game was circled on the calendar as a playoff tuneup and a statement game, and Flip treated it as such. The bench was shortened to the detriment of Dale Davis and, unfortunately, Carlos Delfino, and Maurice Evans only played 5 minutes. It was essentially an 8 man rotation. Flip's 8 man rotation in this game is probably indicative of what we can expect to see in a couple weeks -- with Dyess, Delk, and (sigh) Lindsey pulling the bulk of the relief minutes.
4.) Just some random questions/observations that I had during the game (that do not fit into the previous three categories)...
a.) Is Antoine Walker shaving his eyebrows?
b.) Anyone else do a double-take when the Pistons took the court wearing the white jerseys last night? Turns out that Miami was wearing their black old-school Miami Floridians jerseys last night for the TNT crowd, and so the Pistons sported the whites.
c.) Why does it take Reggie Miller 30 seconds to say what any of us could say in 10? All jokes aside, it was nice to see Rip recognize Reggie (after the Pacers' retired his jersey recently) during the post-game interviews. Rip, with Reggie listening, spoke briefly about how he watched Miller as a kid and learned almost everything he knows from him. I despised Reggie Miller as a player -- but he never would have infuriated me as much were he not so damn talented and determined.
d.) And finally...
TNT showed Sheed and Terrell Owens saying hello at courtside after the game had ended -- two players that, until recently, would have been lumped together in the same "me-first, all-that's-wrong-with-sports" generalization. I, for one, don't see much similarity between the two. Sheed, despite his troubles in the past, has always been beloved by his teammates, while TO has repeatedly thrown his teammates under the bus. Sheed has never craved the spotlight, and has always been one to shun individual awards; TO is the exact opposite, pandering for more respect from his teammates and the league. Sheed, since coming into the league has stayed true to himself, but has also matured; I see no such progress in TO.
My point: TO may very well win a championship in Dallas -- they have as good a shot as anyone else in the NFC -- and the comparisons with Sheed and the Pistons are bound to be made (adding a player of "suspect character" in order to push your team over the top). But in my eyes, the two players could not be more different.