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One game can change a series

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As Flip Saunders has said numerous times during the playoffs:

"One play can change a game, one game can change a series."

Ladies and gentleman, I'm proud to present "the play:"

From the top:
From the top

From the front:
From the front

The reverse angle:
From the back

From the baseline:
From the baseline

The Pistons were winning well before this stuff (which resulted in a jump ball that Ben promptly won), but it was certainly symbolic of Detroit's effort in the elimination game.And to those that thought it was a foul -- what if it was? Shaq would have missed both free throws and turned the ball over just the same.

When asked about it after the game, Ben Wallace was humble . . .

"It's a tough task to go down there and try to fight with Shaq for 48 minutes. I don't know how much of that was skill or determination, but we all get lucky sometimes."

. . . Pat Riley was impressed . . .

"It was a hell of a play."

. . . and Shaq was condescending:

"That was a foul, young lady," Shaquille O'Neal said to a female reporter. "You know it was a foul. Don't ask dumb questions."

On the other end of the court, my favorite moment of the game (if not the entire playoffs) was easily Tayshaun Prince's baseline drive and dunk on Alonzo Mourning. Zo took offense after Tay hung from the rim for an extra second, and the smile that Tay flashed Zo after he got to the ground was all I needed to know that tonight was Detroit's night. Unlike some of the previous games, the Pistons kept going to Tay the entire game, allowing him to finish with 29 points on 11-17 shooting.

Prince was the only Detroit starter to have a consistent stroke the entire game, as Rasheed Wallace (3-11, seven points), Rip Hamilton (7-21, 16 points) and Chauncey Billups (3-12, 17 points) all struggled from the field. That's not to say that they didn't contribute, though, as Rip turned in a team-high 10 boards while Chauncey directed the team with 10 assists and only turnover, not to mention shooting 11-11 from the free-throw line. Ben's monster stuff on Shaq was one of his three blocks for the night to go with two steals, seven boards and eight points.

Antonio McDyess came up huge, going 5-5 from the field, and even drained his only two free throw attempts when the desperate Heat intentionally fouled him with Ben on the bench late in the game. Even though McDyess played just 19 minutes, his +/- was a +14 for the game.

Once again, Detroit dusted off its trademark defense at just the right time, holding Miami to just 13 points in the fourth quarter -- six from Shaq and seven from Dwyane Wade. Of course, Miami made things easy by going 1-8 from the line in the final quarter, but there's no denying that Detroit found a way to prevent anyone else from contributing.

Wade finished with 23 points, three boards, three blocks, four assists and five turnovers. Shaq finished with 19 points, six boards, three blocks, five turnovers and one highlight that will be played on a continuous loop on ESPN until Game 6 tips off Friday night -- $32 million a year just doesn't buy as much as it used to, does it?

The Heat went a pitiful 6-20 from the line, and when asked about it during the post-game presser, Wade turned in one of the most ridiculous statements ever made:

"I can't control the free throw line. I don't know. We did what we always do on offense, got the shots that we wanted -- missed some, hit some. Went to the free throw line, we missed some. We can't control that part of the game."

Actually, Dwyane, the free throw line is one of the only times that you have complete control over the game. It wasn't chance that Chauncey drained all 11 of his freebie attempts, it was the result of hundreds of hours of practice over the years, not to mention a good deal of ice water running through his veins. Wade had just three free-throw attempts on Wednesday after averaging nearly 12 attempts in the first four games, including 19 on Monday. Perhaps he never had a chance to get into a rhythm, or perhaps he just had a case of the yips when he missed both shots after one fateful trip in the fourth quarter.

In hindsight, perhaps the entire Miami Heat team had a case of the yips Wednesday evening. For long stretches they played like a team that didn't completely expect to finish the series in Detroit -- Wade admitted as much after the game, saying the Heat "did what they had to do," a strange statement following a 13-point loss but a clear indication that his team only really expected to win one game in Detroit in the first place.

A lot of Miami fans were calling Game 5 the "most important game in franchise history." Well, they should consider themselves lucky, because they're now assured the chance to watch another "most important game in franchise history," this time on their home court. But as Cleveland fans can tell them, you don't really want to witness too many of those "most important" games in a row, because sooner or later they have a way of turning into a "most disappointing game."

For the Pistons, Friday is yet another one-and-done game, in which, by the way, they've gone 11-2 over the past four playoffs. And while the Heat technically still hold a one-game lead, they better play on Friday' like it's an elimination game, or else they'll find out just how useless a Game 7 fallback plan is when it's played at the Palace in the midst of a two-game losing streak.

Pistons 91, Heat 78 box score [ESPN]
Game Flow [PopcornMachine.net]