Updated: June 1, 2006, 2:03 PM ET

Pistons regaining lost identity

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- This is what they do because this is what they've done.

This is who they are because this is who they've been.

The Detroit Pistons do not back down in the face of adversity, they band together. They stop pointing fingers at each other and start looking at themselves. They knock off the nonsense and revert to what they've been for three years -- the class of the Eastern Conference, a team that never gives up.

Playoff Schedule
Miami 3, Detroit 2
Game 6: Fri., 8 ET, at MIA

Dallas 2, Phoenix 2
Game 5: Thu., 8:30 ET, at DAL

The full playoff schedule

The Pistons who showed up Wednesday night at the Palace were the Pistons who went AWOL a couple of weeks ago. Remember that confidence, that swagger, that cohesion, that put-the-hammer-down mentality the Pistons carried throughout the regular season and through the first 1 1/2 rounds of the postseason?

It reappeared just in time to extend this season at least two more days, and maybe more.

"As I told our guys prior to the game, we've been in a funk here for two weeks, it's time to get out of it and start playing," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "We did what we normally did over the course of the regular season, and in the fourth quarter we had the ability to turn it up."

We should all be used to this after watching the Pistons teeter on the verge of elimination so many times the past three seasons only to summon whatever was needed to stay alive. It happened twice last month during the second round against Cleveland, twice more last year after they fell behind the Heat 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals and again in Game 6 of the NBA Finals when they went to San Antonio and won a must-win game, giving the NBA its first Game 7 in the Finals in 11 years.

The challenge is different this time because the Pistons will need to sustain this resiliency for three full games, but one of the three is out of the way, and one more win will shift the pressure Miami's way if the series returns to suburban Detroit for a Game 7 on Sunday.

"They're still up. We have to come out and play desperate," Pistons center Ben Wallace said. "Right now, we're playing from behind and all the pressure is still on us."

Whatever pressure the Heat were feeling, if any, seemed to manifest itself when they went to the foul line (Miami missed 14 of 20 attempts) or got caught by Detroit's trapping defense just beyond midcourt. The Pistons were able to keep the ball out of Dwyane Wade's hands by constantly sending a second defender at him, and they also benefited from Shaquille O'Neal's inability to score from close range -- often because of Wallace's defensive energy and aggression.

There wasn't a whole lot to separate these teams in this one except effort and execution, and the Pistons sustained theirs for 48 minutes but the Heat tried to stay close for 44 minutes, then wilted in the end.

"It's one of those things where you can't coach it, you can't draw plays for it or anything like that," Wallace said. "You just step out on the floor and you're either energized and ready to play or you're not. That's one thing about energy -- it's effort."

So that sort of begs the question: Where was that effort in Games 1-4? And will it be there Friday night in Miami when the Pistons won't have their crowd to feed off?

One victory does not fix what has been ailing them -- unless we've all been a little overly concerned about the jabs that were thrown Saunders' way after Game 3 and the absence of sustained effort that plagued the Pistons throughout this series and for major stretches of their last one.

Detroit clearly will need another exceptional effort from Tayshaun Prince, who scored a career playoff-high 29 points on 11-for-17 shooting and chipped in on the coverage of Wade, but the Pistons still are going to need a bigger boost from Chauncey Billups, who scored 11 of his 17 points from the line and shot just 3-for-12 from the field, only slightly worse percentagewise than Richard Hamilton's 7-for-21.

Don't count on Wade being held to six points in the fourth quarter Friday night as he was Wednesday, and don't expect the Heat to go soft in their collective cranium when they have a chance to get past this hurdle in the comfort of their own city.

Then again, don't discount the Pistons' resiliency. We've seen them do this before because this is what they do. That's why there's a Game 6 Friday night, and it might also be why this series is a lot further from over than it seemed to be just 24 hours ago.

"If you're going to be afraid to fail, then usually you play timid," Saunders said, "and that team has not done that in these types of situations."

No, it hasn't. That why the Pistons are who they are.

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Rejection Notice Delivered
Ben and Shaq
AP Photo/Duane Burleson
Pistons center Ben Wallace not only cleanly rejects Shaquille O'Neal but sends him to the floor early in the third quarter. In the duel of notorious free-throw shooters, Wallace was 2-for-4 and O'Neal 1-for-5.

Heat's Cold FT Shooting Covers Pistons' Shortcomings
It's tempting to say that the Pistons got back to playing their brand of basketball Wednesday and that that's what allowed them to win Game 5 handily.

Tempting, but wrong. The Pistons won by 13, but they weren't 13 points better, if you get my drift. Detroit's victory margin resulted almost entirely from the glaring disparity in free-throw accuracy between the two clubs.

Miami shot a wretched 6-for-20 from the stripe, with Jason Williams the lone Heat player to convert more than half his foul shots. Had the Heat converted at their regular-season rate of 69.9 percent, they would have made 14 of those 20 free throws and finished with 86 points.

Lowest FT% by a team in NBA playoff game (Min. 10 FTA)
26.1 6-23 PHI 03/19/60
30.0 6-20 MIA 05/31/06
33.3 8-24 ORL 05/19/96

Meanwhile, the Pistons were a scintillating 23-for-26 at the line. Even Ben Wallace got in on the act, hitting two of his four tries after going 5-for-33 in the preceding seven games. The other Detroit players were an eye-popping 21-for-22, including 2-for-2 when Pat Riley went to the desperation "Hack-a-Dice" and sent Antonio McDyess to the stripe (Wallace having been removed already).

Had Detroit made its regular-season rate of 72.7 percent, the Pistons would have made only 19 of those 26 free throws and would have ended up with 87 points. Thus, once we account for the uncharacteristic free-throw performances by both sides, what was a comfortable Detroit win becomes an 87-86 Pistons squeaker.

Obviously, that bodes poorly for Detroit in Game 6. Yes, it's still alive, and that was the objective tonight. But it's hard to argue that the Pistons' recent offensive woes have been solved when their three key players (Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace) shot 13-for-44. Plus, the team once again limped home with an 18-point fourth quarter -- and six of those points came on intentional fouls by the trailing Heat.

So, despite the victory, the Pistons haven't solved any of the problem areas in their puzzling spring slumber. They've just given themselves 48 more hours to find some answers.

-- John Hollinger

How The Mavs Can Bounce Back
Dallas needs to push the ball and probe offensively, but if the Mavs cannot get a good shot in transition, they have to get into their favorite offensive sets. They should get the ball to Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse with middle foul-line isolations, run middle pick-and-rolls with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, and run Terry off multiple screening action.

When Leandro Barbosa and Steve Nash are in the game together, the Mavs recognize they have a mismatch when Barbosa is defending Stackhouse. Look for them to continue to attack Barbosa with "elbow drops" (post-ups of Stackhouse on the left box).

The Mavs must take care of the ball. Their turnovers in this series have a tremendous impact on the pace of the game. The Suns convert those turnovers into fast breaks and 3-point shots, and it has a compounding effect. In the Mavs' two wins, they have averaged only 6˝ turnovers; in their two losses, they have averaged 15 turnovers. They must have fewer turnovers in Game 5 in order to get back on track

See the full Scouts Inc. Game 5 Suns-Mavs Preview Insider

Shaq Swatter

Shortly after Ben Wallace's block sent Shaq tumbling to the floor early in the third quarter, the Pistons gained control of Game 5. Detroit won 91-78. Game 6 is Friday night in Miami.

Pistons Pare Heat Lead To 3-2

Prince In The Can
Tayshaun Prince
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince, dunking here on Alonzo Mourning, carried the Pistons with 29 points in Game 5.

Extreme Behavior
Tayshaun Prince

Wednesday's Best
Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince: It's getting harder and harder to keep Tay at bay. He nets a playoff career-high 29 points, helping the Pistons avoid elimination. The lengthy star also has seven boards.

Gary Payton

Wednesday's Worst
Heat guard Gary Payton: For missing his only two free throws, The Glove grudgingly accepts this award on behalf of his FT-allergic (6-for-20) teammates. Payton missed his three FG attempts, to boot, giving him zero points in 21 minutes of action.

Quote of the Day
"Ain't no pressure on us at all; we have a golden opportunity to win Game 6 on our home floor. They're the defending conference champions; there's no pressure on us."
-- Heat guard Dwyane Wade, perhaps a little too spirited in his no-pressure assertions.

See how all 16 who played stacked up
Hollinger playoff stats (Wade's No. 4)
Plus/minus stats from 82games.com

-- Andrew Ayres

No. 1 Pick Still A Mystery

People around the league still are trying to figure out what the Raptors are up to.

Are they drafting Andrea Bargnani? Are they really after UConn's Marcus Williams? Are they trading out altogether?

The latest intel is pretty inconclusive at the moment.

The fact that GM Bryan Colangelo has sent his staff, including Wayne Embry, to Italy to watch Bargnani is significant. A source in Toronto claims no one in the organization is as high on Bargnani as Colangelo is. To build a consensus on draft night, Colangelo wanted to make sure the others had seen Bargnani enough to come to an educated decision.

He probably should've sent forward Chris Bosh, as well. Bosh said publicly last week that he didn't think the Raptors needed Bargnani and seemed to be campaigning for LaMarcus Aldridge, a fellow Texan and former workout partner. Personal ties, more than basketball considerations, probably are influencing Bosh. Aldridge is actually much more similar to Bosh than Bargnani is. Still, Bosh's complaint is significant. He's the one guy the Raptors don't want to tick off.

See the full Chad Ford blog Insider

Dirk Elevates In Playoffs
Dirk Nowitzki

Sean (Boulder, Colo.): B.J., who is your playoffs MVP so far?

B.J. Armstrong: Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk has made a transformation in his game that I didn't think was very achievable for him a year ago. For a young man to be a predominant perimeter player and then move his game into the paint and be a good player there, I give him credit for expanding his game to where it's almost impossible to defend him. He's an offensive player who can score from anywhere. He's been brilliant. I give him all the credit in the world as he's made this transition. It's been breathtaking to watch him in this year's playoffs.

Lowell (Millersburg, Pa.): B.J. Do you still keep in touch with MJ? Do you think he will become an owner anytime soon?

B.J. Armstrong: It certainly seems like David Stern wants to keep Michael Jordan as a potential owner in this league. I think it would be great for the league to see the players have an opportunity to run a franchise. Because of our schedules and personal lives and what we're doing, it becomes hard to keep in touch. But when we do get together, it's like we didn't skip a beat. I think it would be a win-win situation for the league if he becomes an owner.

See the full B.J. Armstrong chat Insider

Leading Qualities
The scene I remember most from Game 4 of the Heat-Pistons series is not the remarkable over-the-head layup Dwyane Wade contrived. It is the scene at the end of the game when Pat Riley subbed for Wade.

Wade walked over to the bench and into the arms of his adoring teammates. Standing behind the affectionate embraces stood Shaquille O'Neal with a satisfied look on his face. Shaq was satisfied that his team needed just one more victory to go to the coveted NBA Finals and pleased to see his leadership pay dividends.

Ever since I was 8 years old and heard a coach say he thought I could be a good leader, I have been fixated on the concept of leadership in all forms. Since I became a coach, I have studied leadership in a basketball environment even more than I have dissected offensive and defensive fundamentals and schemes.

Player leadership is an absolute necessity to win at any level.

As a coach, I was always on the lookout for any form of leadership a player showed and tried to praise this every chance I got, especially publicly.

Shaq has done a great job of coming into Miami and helping mold Wade into a young dominator. Riley and Stan Van Gundy certainly had a hand in accelerating this dominance, but without O'Neal's unselfish guidance, it is doubtful Wade would be so far along.

See the full Jim O'Brien blog Insider



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