I'm just now recovering from last night's game. I thought I had been excited about the playoffs before Game 6, but I was obviously wrong. And judging from the all of the in-game comments, I don't think I'm alone -- everyone was living and dying with every shot, every rebound and every turnover.
I'm going to assume that any Pistons fan worth his weight in LeBron James' fingernail clippings knows what happened last night: Detroit eeked out a two-point win over the Cavs, 84-82. A few thoughts I had while watching:
The Pistons opened the game with too many turnovers, but they eventually got smart with the ball and finished the game with only 10. That's easily the difference in the game right there. In Games 1 and 2, the Pistons had just 10 and 9 turnovers, respectively. Over the next three losses, including the last two which were decided by a combined four points, they had 16, 14 and 17.
Rasheed Wallace finished with just one personal foul. I didn't realize this until after the game looking at the box score, but that was key. He was sent to the bench in Game 5 with foul trouble, and after sitting out his ankle got stiff, which prevented him from re-entering the game. But in Game 6, he played an amazing 46 minutes (second only to Tayshaun Prince, who played the entire game). I think his staying on the court for long helped him get back to playing his game -- he finished 4-8 from beyond the arc after going a combined 0-3 the previous two games.
But did you notice he only finished with two rebounds? The Cavs seem to be making their living cashing in on second-chance opportunities, and a two-rebound night from your starting power forward doesn't help things.
But more annoying than Rasheed's lack of rebounds was his performance at the free-throw line. He shot 74% from the stripe this season, and he's a 71% shooter for his career. So why is he shooting just 48% in the playoffs?
I think most of take Ben Wallace's struggles at the line for granted, but it's really spread to all of Detroit's big men. Antonio McDyess is a career 67% free-throw shooter, but he shot just 55% in the regular season this year and 59% so far in the playoffs. And Ben seems to be regressing: a couple of years ago, he shot 49%, but in the regular season this year he shot 41%, and so far in the playoffs it's been a dismal 26%. It pains me to say it, but I can't blame teams for the Hack-A-Ben approach late in the games, at worst he'll hit one, and at best it's basically like forcing a turnover.
The backcourt owes us one. Rip Hamilton was hot to open the game with eight points in the first half, but he cooled off after heading to the bench with two fouls. He played less than four minutes in the second quarter, and after scoring seven in the third he went scoreless in the fourth.
And Chauncey Billups... oh man. Let's just say he salvaged his entire night in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points with a pair of steals. But a guy that stayed in the MVP conversation for most of the year isn't supposed to finish a critical game like this with 15 points, four assists and three turnovers. Granted, 15 points on eight field goal attempts isn't bad, but he's been off for most of this series. (And yes, I'm now willing to admit I was off on my previous statement that he needed to exploit the Eric Snow matchup...)
And the free throws: I know he made his first eight of the game, and I know he made 30 of his first 31 in this series, but a guy named Mr. Big Shot has to put the game on ice when the refs give him a freebie.
That said, I won't be surprised if one or both of the guards explode in Game 7, just like how Rip Hamilton did in Game 5 of the Milwaukee series. Rip looked to be on the verge of putting the Pistons on his back in the first quarter before he took himself out of the game with a dumb foul. Given a fresh start on Sunday, I can really see him taking advantage.
As a team, the Pistons regained their stroke. They shot less than 40% in their three losses, but they were close to 50% for most of Friday's game before finishing at 45.6%. Man, was that good to see. It's funny how much smoother the offense goes when shots are falling -- the next possession seems to go that much more smoother, with more ball movement and more confidence.
Well, we have our Game 7, and if it was ever going to happen, it had to be like this, because the Pistons just don't let up when they have an opponent on the ropes. Since the start of the 2003 playoffs and through the first round this year, the Pistons have won 10 of 11 games when they had a chance to win a playoff series, with the lone exception, of course, being Game 7 of the NBA Finals last year. How can you not like their chances on Sunday.
You were never worried, were you?
Pistons 84, Cavs 82 boxscore [ESPN]