CHICAGO -- Let's just go ahead and call this one what it was: a statement game.
Detroit domination back in style
And the statement made Thursday night on the west side of Chicago was the same one being made almost two decades ago when Michael Jordan was still ringless: The Chicago Bulls are not yet mentally or physically capable of competing with the Detroit Pistons.
In fact, after witnessing a second-half meltdown by the Bulls that would have made Britney Spears envious, it's hard to even believe these two teams are in the same league.
"Nothing about this game demoralized us," Ben Wallace was saying in the locker room afterward, the insincerity meter jumping off the charts as he sat near the doorway of Demoralization's Ground Zero, a home locker room that was so quiet afterward you could have heard Kirk Hinrich's heart beating if he indeed did have a pulse.
Make no mistake: This was about as demoralizing of a loss as possible, the Bulls' hopes for their season getting crushed under an onslaught of second-half effort and energy from the Pistons, who stormed back from a 19-point second-half deficit and held Chicago without a field goal for a stretch of more than nine minutes in the fourth quarter.
"On Sunday, nobody should even show up in this stadium," one disgusted fan told me as he exited his seat with three seconds remaining while those who stayed behind were booing the home team. It was an emotional roller coaster of a night for those fans, whose hopes were sky-high at halftime after the Bulls held the Pistons to 28 points but were in the gutter afterward.
"Once we got out of rhythm we could not get it back," coach Scott Skiles said. "I don't know if you can call it a trend after three games, but when they want to do something out there, they do it. When they want to go to the basket, they go to the basket. When they want to shoot 3s, they shoot 3s -- even when we're guarding them. We had some great sequences, but once it got tight they turned it up, and we were not able to go with them."
I saw something I had never seen before at a playoff game (two things, actually, if you count the mascot's head coming off during a second-quarter somersault routine): the fans streaming toward the exits when the outcome of the game was still not a done deal. It started happening with 55 seconds left after Andres Nocioni missed a 3-pointer from the corner and Tayshaun Prince was fouled on the rebound. It was only a five-point game at the time, 76-71, but the crowd knew full well that the Bulls wouldn't be making any comeback. Chicago had been deflated by the Pistons' third-quarter comeback and fourth-quarter execution, and you could almost feel the air coming out of the balloon on several key plays.
The first time it happened was at the end of the third quarter when Rasheed Wallace buried a 3 at the buzzer to cut Detroit's deficit to 61-60. It capped a quarter in which Detroit had zero turnovers, seven second-chance points and 11 points off turnovers while outscoring the Bulls 32-17.
Sheed dropped another dagger early in the fourth when his jumper put the Pistons ahead 62-61, and he rubbed it in with a brief stare down of the Bulls' bench.
A collective groan went up a couple possessions later when Hinrich passed on an open 3 off an offensive rebound by P.J. Brown (one of 22 offensive rebounds by Chicago that led to just 17 second-chance points), settling instead for a wild driving shot that missed. The Pistons moved the ball downcourt and found Chauncey Billups for an open 3 that broke a 66-66 tie and gave Detroit the lead for good. Another groan followed with 5:48 remaining when Hinrich threw the ball away and Billups came up with a steal, and shouts of disgust echoed through the arena on two key late Chicago possessions when Gordon and Hinrich each forced up shots despite having none of their four teammates anywhere near the offensive glass.
"They did what a great team does. They chipped away at the lead and ended up pulling out a win," Gordon said.
Detroit coach Flip Saunders slapped hands with red-clad fans who lined the exit tunnel as the Pistons left the court, his team having taken control of this series with a telling display of confidence. Saunders' moving zone defense has flummoxed the Bulls on offense, taking away the cutting and movement that produced so many open looks in the Bulls' first-round sweep of Miami. Through three games, Billups has utterly outclassed Hinrich at the point, Richard Hamilton has outshone Gordon at shooting guard, and Prince and Rasheed Wallace have dominated the forward matchups.
The second-half collapse left Ben Wallace pretty much at a loss for words as he tried to make sense of how one game and one series could take such a total, complete turn in the space of just 24 minutes.
"I don't know. Things happen."
Yes they do, Ben.
And a bad thing happened to your team, Ben, because they're nowhere near the finished, polished product that Detroit is. That point couldn't have been hammered home any harder in the third and fourth quarters, just before the crowd began streaming out in disgust, knowing that overcoming a five-point deficit was too tall of a task for a team that, at least mentally, and at least when they're being compared to the Pistons, can still be called the Baby Bulls.
• Talk back to the Daily Dime gang
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Image
Following Thursday night's 81-75 collapse against the Pistons, Ben Gordon and the Bulls are one game away from taking a seat for the rest of the playoffs.
Greg (Phoenix, Arizona): Can the league finally drop the hammer on Bruce Bowen? This latest thing with him intentionally kicking Amare Stoudemire should be the final straw. This kind of behavior has no place in the game and is way more severe than Kobe Bryant's elbows.
Chris Sheridan: Agreed on the Kobe comparison. This is far more serious. But Bruce hasn't been in [NBA discipline chief] Stu Jackson's cross hairs all year like Kobe was, so I don't see him getting a suspension.
Chad (Three Oaks, Mich.): Shouldn't Miami at least listen to offers for Shaq? He is not getting any younger and he only plays half of the season. If someone comes to them with a legit young star and an expiring contract I think they would be crazy not to take it.
Chris Sheridan: The guy makes $20 million in each of the next three years, Chad. And no matter how good he once was, he ain't $20 million-a-year- good anymore. They're stuck with him.
Notes from the All-NBA picks announcement:
• Since the two-conference format was instituted in 1970-71, all five members on the All-NBA first-team have been from the same conference only twice -- 2000 and 2007.
• All five players on the first-team are from the same conference for the first time since 2000. That season, it was Gary Payton (SEA), Jason Kidd (PHX), Kevin Garnett (MIN), Tim Duncan (SA) and Shaquille O'Neal (LAL).
• Shaquille O'Neal is not on an All-NBA team for the first time since 1993, his rookie year.
• Tim Duncan is on the first-team for the ninth time in his 10-year career. His nine first-team selections are the most of any active player. Only seven players have been on the All-NBA first-team more than Duncan (10 times or more): Karl Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Cousy, Jerry West, Michael Jordan, Bob Pettit and Elgin Baylor.
-- ESPN Research
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Chauncey Billups signals for a sweep of the Bulls. It certainly seems like Detroit can do what it wants against Chicago these days.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
SALT LAKE CITY -- Despite that scary neck sprain in Game 2 on Wednesday night, it might not be long before Dee Brown is back in the lineup for Utah in its series against Golden State.
While Brown wasn't exactly feeling giddy, his neurological tests and X-rays came back clean, and he'll be traveling with the team to Oakland while getting treatment. He's officially listed as day-to-day, and the fact that the Jazz a) cleared him to fly less than 24 hours after the injury, and b) brought him on the road, gives at least some hint of hope that might be back for Sunday's Game 4. Not that I'd bet on that outcome, mind you, but it's at least theoretically possible.
Teammate Deron Williams -- who also played with Brown at Illinois and is tight enough with him that his mother rode in the ambulance with Brown after the injury -- said both he and Brown were thinking about his future in the immediate aftermath of the injury. "He told [my mom] he thought it was going to be over," said Williams. "I thought about T.J. Ford last night when I saw how he was walking [off the court]."
Interestingly enough, this wasn't Brown's first run-in with a stretcher. Williams said Brown was strapped into a stretcher after a golf cart accident during the offseason while they were at Illinois. "He was doing an FCA [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] thing, and he was riding and a high school kid was driving and hit something and wrecked it," knocking Brown out of the vehicle.
-- John Hollinger in Salt Lake City
Chad Ford: Very. Makes you wonder why Jim Paxson's name has been floating around as a possible GM or assistant GM candidate? He drafted LeBron with the No. 1 pick. What was his second best move? Cavs would be in the Finals this year if they would've held onto Boozer and Andre Miller.
Hilla (Stow, Ohio): Hey Chad! This incessant disrespect of the Cavs frustrates me. After sweeping their first-round series, everyone said the Nets were on a roll and would be a much tougher test. Then the Cavs win Games 1 and 2 and everyone is saying it is because of how bad the Nets are. (Boy, the Nets sure got horrible all of a sudden!) Just looking to get your thoughts on this as well as on the Cavs' potential chances to knock of Detroit in the East Finals.
Chad Ford: The Nets haven't played well ... but the Cavs have a lot to do with that. I think it's interesting that fans have criticized Mike Brown all year because the team has been a "boring" defensive team. Great defense has a way of helping you win playoff games and I think the Cavs are reaping the benefit of it right now. I think they'll win this series ... but I don't see them knocking off Detroit if the Pistons come with the type of urgency that they've played the Bulls.
With Thursday night's victory, the Pistons became the 11th team in NBA history to win their first seven games in a playoff year. Seven of the previous 10 teams to do that went on to win the title. The exceptions were the 1989 Lakers, the 1999 Pacers and the 2005 Heat.