I wasn't sure what kind of reaction the Palace crowd would give Ben Wallace, but it didn't take long to find out: his introduction by Mason was largely answered with boos. From the view on my couch, there appeared to be just enough people cheering to call it a mixed reaction, but once the ball was tipped the boos quickly drowned out any cheers.
Everyone is talking about Ben's return -- it even elicited a rare NBA column out of Mitch Albom:
When Pistons announcer John Mason asked them to welcome back the "cornerstone" of the recent title team, he never got to "B-B-B-Ben" before the fans went "b-b-b-boooooo."
And when Chris Webber, the man now standing in Ben's old spot, put a rebound back with 2.2 seconds left to secure a Detroit win, those same fans roared their approval.
Ears don't lie.
For what it's worth, the players say they were surprised by the fans' reaction:
"I was mystified; I didn't think people would boo," said Rasheed Wallace, who saw Wallace get a nice reception at the restaurant they ate at separately Saturday night. "He's still cool with me."
"I was surprised that it was as many boos," Rasheed Wallace said. "I mean, I seen some of the real Pistons fans clapping and stuff. You can't be mad at the man for what he did. He brought a championship here and gave them all that he's got during his time here. So to boo him, I felt a little uneasy with that -- I'll say that."
"I was surprised ..." Billups said of the boos. "Even I clapped for him when I heard his name. ... But we got fans man, loyal, loyal fans."
Fortunately for the fans, the drama after the ball was tipped actually managed to live up to the pre-game hype. It was close for most of the first half before the Bulls went on a 13-1 run just before halftime. It got even worse in the third quarter as the Bulls extended their lead to as many as 16 -- I don't think I was alone in worrying that this was going to turn into another blowout like the first one.
Chicago couldn't miss and Detroit couldn't hit -- and part of the problem was the fact Rasheed Wallace was hobbling on both ends of the court. He turned his ankle in the first quarter and was obviously limited (he finished with six points, going 2-11 from the field).
Enter Jason Maxiell. Over the next 13 minutes, the Baby Eater completely changed the tone of the game, finishing with seven boards and three blocks while effectively policing the "No Layups" rule. What he couldn't block he still stopped with hard fouls, and he even drew a charge against Ben Wallace, which was the boiling point for the frustrated former Piston. From the Detroit News:
Wallace protested and drew a technical foul.
"I can't tell you what he said, but that was comedy," Maxiell said.
Rasheed could have re-entered the game, but Flip Saunders found a combination that worked and he stuck with it. After Maxiell left five minutes into the fourth, the Pistons finished the game with Antonio McDyess and Chris Webber, with the latter scoring the winning shot with 2.2 seconds left in the game.
This game probably could have gone either way, but as you'd expect from a veteran team playing on its home court, the Pistons pulled it out. The Bulls made a good show of it, and rivalry aside it's hard not to like Chicago's future. DBB reader Boney made the following comment, and I completely agree:
[I] hope that when/if Detroit ever does fall back to mediocrity (teal era) that it’s the young Bulls they played today that come together and take over the Eastern Conference just like it was back in the Early ’90s…
It's a lot easier to get behind this team from Chicago than the one-man show in Cleveland or the marketing stars down in Miami. There's a solid foundation of equally important pieces in place, and anyone who's cheered for Detroit's "sum is greater than its parts" success these last several years can appreciate what Chicago is trying to do. Can you imagine how much fun a seven-game series against this team would be? I'm guessing we'll find out in a couple of months.
Pistons 95, Chicago 93 box score [ESPN]
Mitch Albom: Big Ben's boo-tiful day at the Palace [Detroit Free Press]
Ben: Boos were expected [Detroit Free Press]
NO BULL: Webber's shot foils Wallace's return [Detroit News]
Rob Parker: Fans have moved on from Ben [Detroit News]
DBB preview: Settling the score: The Voice of a Bulls fan
Need4Sheed recap: Pistons Pull One Out In Ben Wallace's Return