Fifteen years ago today, Tayshaun Prince made history. On May 24, 2004 we saw The Block.
For those Pistons fans who are on the younger side, a little context.
It was game 2, and the Pistons were already down 1-0 to their arch-rival Indiana Pacers. In a defensive slugfest, Detroit was clinging to a two-point lead with 24 seconds to go and going down 2-0 seemed like an insurmountable lead.
Chauncey Billups is stripped and Reggie Miller had the ball for a breakaway and bucket that was going to tie the game with about 19 seconds to go.
But Miller slowed up for what he thought was going to be the easy layup. Prince had other ideas. He soared in and pinned the ball against the backboard.
Miller was stunned. Pistons fans were elated.
“In that situation, a two-point game, I’ve just got to make a play on the ball,” said Prince after the game. “Before I got there I knew it was going to be a tough play. ... He slowed up just a little bit at the last second and gave me time to get there.”
Said Miller: “I saw him in my rearview mirror. In hindsight, I probably should’ve dunked it, but I thought I had a few steps on him.”
In recounting the play as his favorite playoff moment of all-time, Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated summed it up perfectly.
No human watching that game, live or on TV, thought Tayshaun Prince was going to get to that ball. I’m not even sure Tayshaun did. In a game that set a playoff record for blocks, the whole sequence is glorious: Jermaine O’Neal snuffing Rasheed, then Reggie pitter-pattering to get his steps just right for what really should have been a dunk, then Tayshaun hurtling out of the ether at the last second. Unlike a LeBron chasedown block, predicated on elite athleticism, this had to be absolutely perfect for Prince to have a chance: the run-up, the lift-off, the left-hand swipe. That he manages to not only cleanly block the ball, but both avoid the goaltend and keep it in bounds, is amazing. The postscript—Prince crashing into the stands, Reggie incredulous, Prince rising like a prizefighter, Doc Rivers getting hoarser by the second—only makes it better.
I also like the original ESPN broadcast as it really captures the absolute astonishment everyone was feeling. I’ll never forget Doc Rivers, never someone at a loss for words just screaming, “Wow!”
This play will live forever. Happy birthday, Tayshaun Prince. Hope someone gives a friendly reminder to Reggie Miller today.