You could tell from the opening tip that the fans in Orlando were geeked about their first taste of playoff basketball since 2003. The crowd was rocking, easily drowning out the TV announcers several times in the early going, especially as the Magic scored the first eight points of the game.
Orlando pushed the ball at every opportunity, scoring easily in transition while Detroit struggled to find the bottom of the basket. Making matters worse were the officials, who, perhaps intimidated by Brian Hill's public complaints, decided to call an extremely close game, which resulted in Rasheed heading to the bench midway through the first quarter with two fouls and a tech. Watch the video below for Rasheed's reaction (to the call and getting lifted) as well as George Blaha's entertaining editorial: (huge thanks to DBB reader Tim for putting this together):
I agree completely with Blaha's take on this -- these were all ticky-tack calls. Be careful not to read too much into Rasheed's reaction to Flip Saunders taking him out. Once he had a chance to cool off, Rasheed had to have realized it was the best thing for the team. The way the refs were calling things, it wouldn't have taken much to get that third foul, or worse yet, that second tech, regardless of how careful he was. But, damn, does that guy wear his emotions on his sleeve.
As it is, the Pistons finished the game with four techs -- Dale Davis and Rip Hamilton each picked one up, though theirs didn't come from arguing but rather a little extracurricular contact with an Orlando player, which, if I had my druthers, all of Detroit's techs would be.
I'm sure Brian Hill was loving how much attention the refs were giving Detroit, but you could also argue that it took his team out of its rhythm. All the whistles slowed the game down, and considering the Magic turned in yet another abysmal performance from the line (12-21), the Pistons were soon able to set their own tempo, which resulted in a 6-0 run to end the quarter with the two teams all tied up. The fact the game was tied had to take the wind out of Orlando's sails -- that team was flat-out cooking for a while, and the best they could do was a tie?
Detroit is often guilty of giving away a quarter now and again, but they never let up the rest of the way. Any momentum Orlando may have thought they had left over from the first quarter was completely and utterly destroyed heading into halftime when the Pistons hung five points on the Magic in the final 2.3 seconds. Tayshaun Prince hit a 19-footer from the corner, and then as Hedo Turkoglu tried to inbound to what looked like a streaking Jameer Nelson, Nelson forgot to keep streaking, allowing Tayshaun to pick off the pass at the midcourt line and heave it back to Chauncey, who nailed a three as time expired.
That sent the Pistons into the break with a six-point lead that essentially materialized out of thin air. They built upon it in the third and fourth before ultimately winning the game by 16. It was refreshing to see the team dominate for long stretches, because honestly, this was the first time it really felt like playoff basketball. The Pistons took Orlando's best shot on the chin and didn't even blink. Especially with Chicago threatening to make quick work of the Heat, it's nice to see the Pistons in playoff form.
If you thought history was working against the Pistons in Game 3, well, understand that it'll be completely in Detroit's favor in Game 4. I know Detroit hasn't swept an opponent since 1990, but they've also rarely squandered the opportunity to put an opponent to rest. Since the start of the 2003 playoffs, the Pistons have won 11 of their last 12 games in which they had the opportunity to eliminate their opponent. (Their lone loss? Game 7 of the 2005 Finals, of course. Not only does that still sting, it's messing up my statistics.)
Quick observations from the box score:
- You know what one of the biggest differences between these two teams is? Orlando can't shoot: not at the free-throw line and definitely not from three-point land. Brian Hill predicted we'd see some of J.J. Redick, one of the few guys on the roster with range, but that never materialized. Jameer Nelson hit a few three-pointers, but he's hardly a consistent enough threat to stretch the defense and create space for Dwight Howard.
- Darko Milicic is a player. One of many reasons Brian Hill deserves to be fired this year has been his refusal to start Darko over Tony Battie this year, especially in the playoffs when Darko has scored in double-digits in each of the first three games. Battie, meanwhile, is averaging just five points a game.
- For as much as we're hearing about Grant Hill "finally being healthy," he's still being treated with kid gloves. He came out of the game just two minutes after tip-off for some unspecified reason, and after a minute or so on the bench he returned. And then later (I believe it was the second quarter) he retreated to the locker room for a few minutes for another unspecified reason. The guy is fragile, plain and simple. He finished 2-12 from the field, scoring just eight points.
- Rip Hamilton was hardly better than Grant, scoring 10 on 2-11 shooting. Fortunately the rest of the starting lineup carried the load, as everyone else scored at least 15.
- Flip Murray played eight minutes in the second quarter and five in the fourth. He didn't do much to fill out the box score (two points, two assists, a rebound), but he managed to post a +/- of exactly zero. I'll take that. Lindsey Hunter, meanwhile, picked up the DNP.
- Antonio McDyess is still struggling with his shot -- 2-5 shooting in 21 minutes -- but that's okay considering he also chipped in 11 boards and two blocks.
- I noticed this before the game, but this was pretty funny:
The Magic asked their fans to wear blue T-shirts as part of their "Code Blue" postseason marketing campaign, but the team wore white, making the arena look more like a Pistons crowd.
As I understand it, the promotion was set in works and the T-shirts ordered before it was determined that Detroit would be the opponent. And actually, this isn't the first time its happened in this year's playoffs: the same thing happened to the Raptors during Game 1 in Toronto when the crowd wore red and the Nets busted out their red uniforms.