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Pistons-Heat: Game 1

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Detroit\'s starters huddle up before the game

[Matt and Ian will be posting quarter-by-quarter recaps for tonight's game, and we invite all of you to leave your in-game comments here, as well. ]

    Pre-Game

Ian:

Well, the matchup that everyone expected is upon us: Kazaam, D Wade, Mouthpiece, Damon Jones' deputy in Hell, et al, are all at the Palace to take on our beloved Boys in Blue.

Now tip the damn ball already.

What we've learned from ESPN's pregame moments:

1. Stephen A. Smith enjoys yelling, and his cohosts seem confused by it. Shut...up...

2. Dwayne Wade wanted this rematch all year -- be careful what you wish for.

3. I hope someone other than my fiancee and me noticed Sheed and Carlos (F'n) Delfino horsing around in the background while Mike and Hubie were previewing the game. Also of note, Hubie looks to have completed his transformation into Skeletor.

By the power of upside...

    1st Quarter

1. I understand that 20-8 leads are nothing to applaud, but what the hell happened to the Palace faithful. Have the blue-collar fans sold out to the blue-bloods for the playoffs? Are the Palace crowds going by way of the University of Michigan football crowds? Que Pasa?

2. Thus far in this game, Ben looks to be the only one that has come to play his game. He has a couple defensive stops on Shaq, and he got the Pistons on the board with an alley-oop. If Ben can force Shaq to play him honest on the offensive end, the dribble penetration should yield some paint points for Rip, Tay, and Sheed (if he ever shows up, that is).

3. The abuse of Gary Payton has begun. As a follow-up to his domination of the Glove in the 2004 finals, Chauncey promptly takes it to GP at the 3-minute mark of the second quarter, drawing the foul and cutting the lead to 8 with the freebies.

4. Folks, the Heat just threw their best punch. There’s no way in hell they shoot 75+% the remainder of the way, and the Pistons should gradually improve upon their 35% clip. Blue has hung around, steadily playing their game and avoiding foul trouble, and despite the defensive lapses, signs thus far are pretty good. Consider this: Wade with two fouls in the first quarter; 25 points by a "tired" Detroit team in the quarter; plenty of points in the paint and at the line for the normally perimeter-obsessed Pistons. If anything, it is Miami (Shaq excluded) that has fallen in love with the perimeter shot.

I now leave you in the capable hands of Matt for the second quarter. I'll see you after halftime.

    2nd Quarter

Matt:

1. Mo Evans just got the fast break after entering the game at the end of the first -- nice to see Flip Saunders decided to use the bench early to combat the Heat's rest advantage. He's joined on the court by fellow reserves Antonio McDyess and Lindsey Hunter.

2. The bench is making things happen -- McDyess hits a jumper forced a turnover, which results in a Hunter layup.

3. Free-throw woes? What free-throw woes? The Pistons open the game 13-13 from the charity stripe. That's incredible to see after the last series -- and it's the only reason the Pistons are now down two after being down 12 early.

4. Hunter gets tagged with the defensive foul on a Wade push-off, but he's not scared -- just seconds after the resulting in-bound pass, he draws a charge from Wade, who heads to the bench with his third foul. Awesome job by Hunter, who probably neutralized the Heat's best offensive weapon for the rest of the half. That's the benefit of having one of the best on-the-ball defenders coming off the bench -- he can afford to be as aggressive as he wants to be knowing that he's only going to be needed for limited minutes.

Ian mentioned this to me and I have to agree: it's nice to see that Flip has realized Hunter is most effective when paired up with Billups. For one, it's far less likely that Hunter follows a stellar defensive play with a dumb shot on offense.

5. Do Mike and Hubie really need to remind everyone how far Chauncey Billups has come? How many other NBA Finals MVPs need to be introduced?

6. Seems like Detroit just can't get over the hump -- Chauncey just missed a three which would have tied it at 41-41. Instead, Payton scores on the other end, putting Miami up by five. And now Rip commits the charge. The good news is that Rip's foul was just the second turnover by Detroit so far. Turnovers and free throws were Detroit's Achilles' heel against Cleveland, but they've certainly addressed those concerns so far -- they just need to follow a couple of stops with a shot to get this thing tied.

7. I want to buy a Honda Element. "Yes, I pinch."

Alright, a couple of thoughts before I throw it back to Ian. I really like how Flip is using his bench, even if it's just for a few seconds at the end of each quarter. No need to risk a foul (or injury) to a starter in those situations on defense, especially when it's a guy like Dale Davis that only needs to lean on his man to keep him honest.

But here's a big question: what's up with Rasheed Wallace? He played just 13 minutes in the first half, and his next point will be his first. Is it just foul trouble (he has two), or is the ankle acting up? The fact that Detroit "weathered the storm" without getting anything out of Rasheed and still enters halftime down just four is quite remarkable.

Alright, back to Ian for the third -- I'll be back in the fourth.

    Halftime

Ian:

You almost get the sense that ESPN is experiencing a Lebron hangover. Everything about this halftime seems a bit less hyped. Man, if you're Dwyane Wade, you must feel like last year's prom queen. Lebron's second round playoff loss is a bigger story than his conference finals matchup against the Pistons. This after Wade was annointed the hero during last year's playoffs.

    3rd Quarter

1. Flip admits at halftime that the Pistons are "emotionally tired." Okay...

2. The Pistons cannot buy a bucket to start the third quarter, and the Heat are hitting everything. Sound familiar? If this keeps up, I'm going to have Matt jump in here since they seem to respond when he's on watch.

3. Shaq cannot challenge anything down low with his three fouls, as evidenced by his laying off Billups on the layup drive. The Pistons would be wise to exploit that void in the center. Just as I type this, Ben steals the O-board and slams it home. (Genious.)

4. Just got an IM from Matt coinciding with Sheed's first bucket of the game (a three). It said simply "'bout f*cking time." Yup, that about says it all. Meanwhile, Shaq is elbowing people; Tay Tay is hitting threes; Dwyane Wade is relying too much on the dribble drive (because he can't shoot straight) and draws his fourth foul; and the Pistons are working their way into the lead. Good times. Timeout bitches.

5. I like Haslem shooting jump shots like I like Butter Pecan ice cream. Always.

6. Sheed giveth, and Sheed taketh away. But Skeletor makes a good point, you have to keep feeding Sheed down low, if only to get him hot in time to effect the outcome in the fourth. Remember, Sheed is the best free-throw shooting big man in white tonight. At this rate, that should be important later.

7. 8 straight points from the Heat, and the bad guys go back up by 3. Flip's in a bit of a quandry right now. Lindsey would be an asset at limiting the perimeter chances for the Heat, if only because he could slow the pace that the ball is getting upcourt. But Lindsey is at his best when on the floor with Chauncey, and do you really want to steal starter minutes from Rip and give them to Lindsey? Think about that.

8. Ben is a monster on the boards. He is ripping them from everyone right now: Shaq, Mourning, Haslem. Everyone. Meanwhile, Rip Hamilton is wilting under the physical pressure being applied by the Heat. His game is catch and shoot, not catch, get hammered with no foul call, and shoot. If they aren't going to call the foul, he's got to defer.

Well, the Boys in Blue are back down five after such a promising start to the quarter. I'm going to pass the baton to Matt to close this one out; let's hope he can pull out the W. Let's pick it up, Blue.

    4th Quarter

Matt:

1. Thank you Posey -- if there's one thing that will get the Pistons back on top, it's missed three-point attempts by the Heat.

2. Go to hell, Payton. Made three-pointers by Miami do the Pistons no good. Detroit trails 69-61.

3. Another three try (miss by Walker) from Miami -- I think Pat Riley is trying his best to bury Detroit with a barrage of threes right now. Either that, or he has some undisciplined players on the court. Considering Detroit is only down four, I'm surprised Miami is settling for such low-percentage shots. Count on Wade to even things out by driving to the hoop every time he touches the ball.

4. Anyone else notice how much the scoring has decreased since the opening quarter? Detroit had 25 in the first, just 30 more two and a half quarters later.

5. Flagrant foul by James Posey on Antonio McDyess , followed by a shot of Pat Riley and Shaq smirking on the sidelines. Smile all you want, fellas, but Dyess hit 'em both, and drew another foul on the ensuing possession. One more foul on Miami and Detroit is in the bonus. (OK, Detroit failed to score after the in-bounds and Wade just scored on the other end to put Miami up by 10, but the fact Detroit is almost in the bonus will likely be a factor.)

6. Does Wade have a pronounced swagger or is he always limping? I really don't know. Granted, I'd have a swagger, too, if I just put my team up 13 against the No. 1 seed on the road.

7. Haslem just turned the ball over on his fifth personal (throw the mouthpiece, throw the mouthpiece, throw the mouthpiece...)

8. Sadly, Miami is beating Detroit with an even attack -- they have five players in double-digit scoring.

9. Miami, up by nine, goes to the Hack-A-Ben. Unconventional to do that with the lead, but not a bad strategy considering Ben missed them both and is now 0 for his last 13. He's basically an automatic turnover when put on the line. Detroit in turn hacks Shaq, which prompts Miami to take him out. Ugly basketball. Good thing we were close to the 2:00 minute mark, where away-from-the-ball fouls are rewarded with shots and possession.

10. I don't know what's more disappionting: the fact that Wade just blocked Rip's shot, or that when he took it the other way and was fouled, he landed on some empty courtside seats. People, if you're paying several hundred dollars to sit that close, at least stay the whole game.

11. If Tracy McGrady can score 13 in 35 seconds, Detroit can score eight in 22, right? Right? Yeah, I'm not betting on it either. Miami up 88-81, the game is all but in the bag.

Game. Wade scored 25 in 27 minutes, making 9-11 from the field and 7-9 from the line. Shaq turned in 14 points and eight boards in 29 minutes. It's pretty ridiculous that Miami was able to control this game pretty much from start to finish while getting less than 30 minutes from Wade and O'Neal. Miami's bench just isn't that good. Oh sure, Walker (17 points) and Payton (14) have some name value, but they can't be allowed to combine for 31 points. And this is kind of obvious, but Detroit can't continue to allow Wade to get to the hoop with such ease.

A lot of people are going to say fatigue was a big factor in this game, and they may be right. But if you take out the first quarter, Detroit won this game by three. To me, that looks more like early jitters, because you wouldn't think fatigue would be a factor in the opening minutes. Remember, Miami jumped out to an 11-0 lead to start the game, and even though Detroit had the lead a couple of times later in the game, they were never able to create any kind of cushion.

The silver lining, though, is that this is supposed to be hard -- no one was expecting a sweep. It just hurts that Detroit gave up home court advantage, especially in a game that Miami's big two were limited by foul trouble. What went right? Detroit turned the ball over six times; Miami, 14. Detroit shot 19-22 from the line; Miami, 14-21.

Like Rip likes to say, "If it's not rough, it's not right." Being down 0-1 is certainly rough; hopefully they can make it right in Game 2.