The Pistons swept the Magic on Saturday, and as I'm sure you've already heard three dozen times this weekend alone, it was their first playoff sweep since 1990. But even though the Pistons won all four games (or rather, eight, if you include the regular season), the series was more competitive than a lot of people were expecting.
The Magic got better as the series progressed, but Detroit became more focused, as well. Given what lies ahead (and believe me, we'll attack the whole "Bennie and the Bulls" matchup from multiple angles this week), I'm actually glad that Orlando gave Detroit a workout. Let's take a look at what we learned from watching the Pistons in the first round. In no particular order:
- Getting physical with Rip Hamilton might actually work.
Grant Hill admitted before Game 3 that his gameplan to contain Rip was to play as physical as possible, but by then it was already clear.
In Game 1, Hill (accidentally?) undercut Hamilton's legs on a layup attempt, resulting in an awkward fall that left Hamilton with a sore left wrist the rest of the way. And then in Game 2, Nelson continued Orlando's mission of thuggery on Hamilton with a flagrant foul on a fast break, hitting him so hard across the neck and face that his protective mask came lose.
Rip said all the right things ("It's a waste of energy. It ain't going to work."), but the numbers don't lie: the career .451 shooter managed just .386 from the field, and in the final three games he never made more than six field goals.
(I don't want to start previewing the next series just yet, but I should add that it doesn't figure to get any easier for Rip, considering the fact that he's gotten into it with several members of the Bulls over the past couple of seasons. No matter if it's Kirk Hinrich or Ben Gordon covering him, he'll have a four-inch height advantage, which suggests Chicago may need to resort in a bit of extracurricular physical play to contain him.)
- Antonio McDyess isn't always automatic.
McDyess shot at least 54% over each of the last four months of the regular season, but he opened the playoffs ice cold, shooting just 25% in four games. Will it last? I doubt it, but it was awfully frustrating (and surprising) from a guy whose stroke was pure gold down the stretch. That said, he wasn't a complete liability: he was the team's leading rebounder with 9.3 boards per game and a valuable defender as part of the army of big men Detroit threw at Dwight Howard.
- Flip Saunders doesn't quite trust the bench.
Well, that's not entirely true, as McDyess played his usual minutes. But Carlos Delfino saw his playing time slashed from 16.7 minutes in the regular season to just 12.3 in the first round. Flip Murray earned a DNP in the first game, while Lindsey Hunter got a DNP in two. Dale Davis saw a bit more action than usual, which was to be expected against Dwight Howard, but Jason Maxiell combined for just nine minutes in two games.
What's interesting, though, is that the bench came through on several different occasions, especially in Game 4. Delfino scored all eight of his points on Saturday in the second quarter, helping spark a 16-2 run for Detroit to regain the lead after being down by as many as 10 points. Murray played just as well during that same stretch, recording four steals (and should have gotten a fifth were it not for a phantom call that went Grant Hill's way).
Saunders can afford to give his starters more minutes in the playoffs -- TV timeouts are longer, plus there aren't any back-to-backs -- but when a player comes through like Delfino did on Saturday, it'd be nice to find him at least a few more minutes the rest of the way. Instead, he stayed glued to the bench until the final 19 seconds of the fourth, when he replaced Chris Webber simply because the Pistons wanted good free-throw shooters on the floor as the Magic tried to stop the clock by fouling.
Chauncey Billups is indispensable.
As much as I wouldn't have minded a few extra minutes for Delfino and Murray, it was pretty obvious that the Pistons were hurting every time Chauncey left the ballgame. Was this because Detroit's best matchup was Chauncey's advantage over Jameer Nelson? Who knows, but the fact Saunders was willing to leave Hunter on the bench should be a sign that Billups will log monster minutes the rest of the way.
There were a few other semi-noteworthy things I wanted to point out that didn't fit under a neat heading: both Tayshaun Prince (.535) and Chris Webber (.583) shot well over 50%; the team as a whole shot .443 from three-point land; and just like in years past, the best way to slow Rasheed is to get him into foul trouble.
Did I miss anything? Was there anything else the Pistons can take from this series? Leave your suggestions in the comments.