Remember how Scott Skiles kept on saying the Bulls were getting open shots in Games 1 and 2, but that they just weren't falling? Well, they were open in Game 5 alright, and holy crap were they falling. I'm sure everyone will be talking about how the Bulls shot 72% in the first half, but honestly, that's not even what got Detroit. Despite that blistering percentage, the Pistons entered halftime with a manageable eight-point deficit.
It was the third quarter that killed the Pistons. Just when it looked like the Pistons might make some noise by cutting Chicago's lead down to six, the Bulls ran off back-breaking 13-0 run. And unlike the Game 3 theatrics, the Pistons really was no answer for it, as the lead ballooned to 23 late in the fourth quarter.
How could things get so bad, so quickly? For one, the defense never tightened up. Although they fell off their scorching pace from the first half, the Bulls still shot an unacceptable 57% in the third quarter. But just as importantly, the Pistons proved once again that they don't have an adequate backup for Chauncey Billups on the roster. Billups picked up three quick fouls early in the third (thanks in part to Kirk Hinrich, who unbeknownst to most NBA fans actually suffers from an acute balance disorder which results in him falling helplessly to the ground at the slightest touch by an opposing player), and in his absence Detroit's offense grew stagnant.
It wasn't a surprise, really. The same thing happened earlier in the game when Billups sat out for a breather in the second quarter: his absence more or less coincided with an 12-3 run by the Bulls. It's good news for him, I guess, since Joe Dumars will have a hard time not giving him as much money as he wants this summer, but it's just killing the Pistons in the meantime.
But really, this wasn't about what Detroit's players didn't do so much as what Chicago's players did: Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich were all clicking, and when that happens there aren't many teams in the league they can't beat. Deng (20 points, seven boards, four assists, two blocks) has been the model of consistency for the Bulls, and Hinrich (17 points, 13 assists) has more or less been solid.
But this was really Gordon's first big game of the series, and he provided dagger after dagger for the Bulls by shooting 5-6 from long range en route to 28 points. He's inconsistent as hell, not much on the defensive end and can't rap worth a damn, but I will give him this: when he's on, he's on.
For what it's worth, the Pistons did out-rebound the Bulls 37 to 35, but that was a function of Chicago's insane shooting percentage as much as anything else. Chris Webber played better than the last two games with nine points and a team-high eight boards, though his lack of athleticism is still being exposed. Antonio McDyess scored 12 points in 15 minutes but also committed three turnovers. I wish we could have seen more of Jason Maxiell -- he was a +11 on the night in just 15 minutes of play, scoring five with three boards. At the very least, you know Maxiell is going all-out on every play, while the other big guys were often doing more plodding than anything else.
And honestly, I still wish Amir Johnson could at least dress for these games -- if nothing else, he could provide 2-3 minutes of unbridled energy, and I guarantee he'd do at least a couple of things that make you notice him on the court, whether it's chasing down a loose ball or skying high for a rebound. It's a fool's quest to think it'll ever happen -- on this veteran team, such a drastic change in the rotation would just reek of "panic" -- but to me it just seems like one of those no-brainers to at least try.
Then again, making adjustments -- whether they're drastic or small -- never has been Flip Saunders' forte. I've never been one to lay too much blame on a coach simply because I honestly don't feel qualified to determine which mistakes are the result of poor execution and which mistakes are the fault of a bad scheme ... but when a team is hitting open jumpers all night long with the nearest defender three steps away? It makes me wonder if the players are really being put in the best position to succeed.
This series might remind you of last year's debacle with Cleveland, but it doesn't really compare. For one, the Pistons were legitimately hampered by injury last year: Rip Hamilton was still feeling an ankle injury from the first round and Rasheed Wallace suffered a severe ankle injury in Game 4. This year? There's no real excuse other than the mythical lack of "energy" or "focus" or "in-game coaching adjustments." (OK, that last one might not be so mythical.)
The Pistons are still in the position of power, of course, needing just one win to close it out, but it's a big concern that they couldn't do it at home. I still think that the third time trying to close out the series will be the charm in Game 6 on Thursday in Chicago, but I no longer know if my confidence is fueled by optimism, logic or denial.