Ben Wallace's blowup in the fourth quarter of Friday night's loss to the Magic -- and the potential distraction it could cause the team -- dominated the background chatter for about a quarter of ABC's Pistons v. Pacers broadcast. Then both Ben individually and the Pistons collectively forced a change in topic as they dominated the Pacers en route to a 98-73 blowout win.
According to ABC, Ben briefly addressed Friday's events in the pre-game stating that he would make his true statement in his play against the Pacers; he didn't disappoint. In a game devoid of playoff-esque atmosphere, Ben's intensity stood out from the beginning. He finished with 22 boards, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and four dimes to go along with four points, and he was the only starter to play more than 30 minutes in the game. After the game, he came his closest yet to publicly admitting his mistake, telling ABC's interviewer "I really don't try to think about the past too much; I just try to learn from my mistakes and move forward."
Aside from Ben's inspired return to the floor, the play of the bench was noteworthy. Rather than a simple "scoring punch", which the Piston bench has readily provided in recent weeks, Tony Delk, Lindsey Hunter, and Antonio McDyess practically knocked the Pacers out themselves. Each saw the floor for 20+ and finished in double figures in points. And prepare yourself, because I'm going to utter a few words that rarely are used in combination (especially by me): Lindsey Hunter shot the lights out today. There, I said it. For the game, Lindsey was a blistering 6-8 from the field (2-3 from three) to go along with his five dimes. He was the dominant force during a second quarter which started with the Pacers in front and ended with the Pistons comfortably ahead. Were this to become the norm -- and let's face it, that's crazy talk -- the Pistons would have two backcourt offensive threats to go along with Dyess. As it was, the bench played well enough to extend every lead passed to them by the starters and enabled this one to be wrapped by the end of the third. The Pacers, even with their A game, would have been hard-pressed to keep up.
Unfortunately, the Pacers didn't bring their A game with them, and this nationally televised contest was about as nondescript as they come. The closest the Pacers showed to having any heart at all was Jermaine O'Neal's backhanded smack at one of the Palace folding chairs as the Pistons stretched the lead to 30 in the fourth. At this point, Indy seems content just to play out the string having lost 8 of their last 10 games even while their playoff lives are at stake. Both Philly and the Bulls are inching closer to putting Indy out of it's misery, but perhaps that's what they want. Regardless, it would appear that we were all a bit premature in our Pacer paranoia last month; at this point, there's no team I'd rather the Pistons play in round 1. Unfortunately, due to the Pacers' internal troubles, this once hot rivalry has devolved into nothing more than a speedbump for the Boys in Blue.
With the win, the Pistons are now coasting towards the best record in the league. While that may seem an insignificant goal viewing the competition and balance (or lack thereof) in the Eastern Conference (it looks as if three sub-.500 teams from the East could make the playoffs), perhaps the more important stat is the Pistons' 35-3 record on their home floor. Recent wins over the Mavs and Suns amidst a stretch of 7 wins in 8, confirm that the Boys in Blue can play with the best in the Palace. It should be comforting to know that, with home court advantage, whoever is on the marquee will have to play four of seven in Auburn Hills.
Next up for the Pistons is Lebron and the Cavs on Wednesday night.