Detroit's complete domination in Game 5 was one of the most predictable events in recent memory. No offense to the Bucks, who were quite competitive in Games 3 and 4, but the Pistons don't believe in second chances when a series is on the line: Wednesday's win marked the 11th time in 12 opportunities that they won when they had the chance to clinch a playoff series.The lone exception, of course, was the Game 7 loss to the Spurs in the NBA Finals. Ouch!
The big concern entering the game was Rip Hamilton's health -- he was noticably slowed the previous three games due to his sprained ankle. But Rip set the tone early with 15 first-quarter points before finishing with a career playoff high of 40, despite sitting out the final 11 minutes of the fourth quarter. For the first time in the playoffs, he was a model of efficiency, shooting 15-23 from the field and 8-9 from the free-throw line. Remember Milwaukee's plan to put T.J. Ford on him? Big mistake; Hamilton's seven-inch height advantage over Ford was one of the main reasons he was able to get going so quickly early in the game.
Like Rip, Ben Wallace also enjoyed a breakthrough performance, grabbing 14 rebounds, forcing two steals and blocking one shot in 34 minutes. And Rasheed Wallace continued his dominance over Andrew Bogut, scoring 22 points on 8-11 shooting (including 4-5 from three-point land) adding seven boards and four assists in 27 minutes.
But this game was about more than just individual statistics; it was about a team showing an uncanny focus to take care of the business at hand. The Pistons started the game hot, jumping out to a 39-23 lead after one quarter, and they left halftime intent to put the game on ice, opening the third quarter on an 18-2 run.
If the NBA had a mercy rule, the game would have been over after three, but as it was both teams were forced to empty their benches and play out the remaining 12 minutes -- you know something has gone either horribly wrong or tremendously right if you see Mo Evans, Tony Delk, Dale Davis, Carlos Delfino and Kelvin Cato on the court at the same time. For the Boys in Blue, it was simply a matter of protecting their starters, giving them a few extra minutes of rest before spending the next week waiting for the Cleveland/Washington series to end and determine who the Pistons' opponent will be in the second round.
For the Bucks, there's plenty to take home to Milwaukee and build upon. Namely, Michael Redd proved that the regular season was no fluke and that he's one of the NBA's brightest up-and-coming stars. All he needs now is a coach who won't let him forget what a dangerous three-point shooter he can be. Redd finished the series shooting 7-15 from three-point land -- as I see it, he should have had at least twice as many attempts.
The much-maligned/celebrated T.J. Ford had his moments, but by the time the dust settled he averaged 12.6 points and 6.4 assists in five games, which is damn close to his 12.2 ppg and 6.9 apg marks from the regular season. Yes, he's blazing fast, but until he gets a reliable jump shot, he'll remain a long ways from making everyone forget he's by far the smallest player on the court.
It'll be tough for Andrew Bogut to ever live up to the hype of being a first overall pick, but he showed some grit in this series. It didn't always show up in the box score -- he averaged a modest 8.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game -- but he was always active and around the ball. One thing that he absolutely must work on is his defense -- granted, guarding Rasheed Wallace is tough, but it should be a crime for a seven-footer to play 140 minutes over five games and not tally a single blocked shot.
So that's that. The Pistons become the first team in the East to advance, and once again it's a waiting game. While a sweep of the Bucks would have been nice, so far you have to love the symmetry of this postseason with that of 2004, when the Pistons beat the Bucks in five before advancing three more rounds to win the NBA title.