Pistons find focus, beat Heat
Love him or not, the Pistons listen to Larry Brown.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- As Detroit Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace headed to the shower on Tuesday night, he gave a warning to the media. "All of ya'll cut that [expletive] Cleveland [stuff] out, too," he said.
Yes, it's safe to say that reports that Detroit coach Larry Brown was going to the Cleveland Cavaliers after the season to become the team's president had more than crossed the minds of his current players. But it's also safe to say that during the Pistons' 106-96 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, the news about the coach wasn't a distraction to the players, either. If anything, the defending NBA champions seemed more focused under their coach's cloud in the must-win, series-tying triumph.
"We've got bigger things at hand," Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said. "We are worried about the Miami Heat. Not what coach is doing or whatever. We don't really care about all that right now. We're worried about trying to win the series. Trying to defend our championship. Not what's going to go on after the season. We've still got a season to play. That's not affecting us.
"They've been talking about different teams all season long with coach, and who knows what's going to happen. But at this point, no one really cares."
Brown spoke in non-denial denial fashion about his Cleveland situation to the media during Tuesday morning's shootaround. He said he wouldn't "comment on the speculation," he wants to "finish coaching" in Detroit and that he was more concerned about his health issues that include bladder and hip problems. He also scoffed at the notion that the players would be affected by the report.
"I've been hearing all this distraction [talk]," Brown said. "It was a distraction when I had surgery the first time. We did all right. It was a distraction when I had surgery the second time. We did all right. It was a distraction supposedly against Indiana. We did all right. We were ahead in Game 2 and Game 3 in the fourth quarter against [Miami]. The only distraction is it's taking away from what you [the media] are is supposed to be doing right now, focusing on this series."
It definitely seemed like a distraction to the players in the morning as they declined to talk after shootaround.
But center Ben Wallace put the news in perspective prior to the game."He hasn't talked to anybody," said Wallace, referring to Brown and the players. "I'm pretty sure if he felt he had to talk to us, he would. It is what it is. It doesn't bother me one way or the other.
"It's the Eastern Conference finals, we can't afford to let anything sidetrack us or get underneath our skin. So, it is what it is."
What it was, with regard to Brown after the game, was more comical than tense. For instance, here's center Elden Campbell's take on Brown's situation: "I ain't going to be here next year, either," Campbell said. "So whatever he does, happy trails."
According to sources, Brown still has a fan or two in Detroit.
As Rasheed Wallace returned to his locker, he gave the media two more whimsical warnings about eaving the Brown rumors alone. Pretending to be a reporter, forward Darvin Ham changed his voice to that of some square dude, ducked and jokingly asked Wallace: "Are you going to Cleveland [jerk]?"
Despite Wallace's warning, we media couldn't help ourselves and we had to do our job. So of course we asked Wallace about Brown. "Ya'll keep bringing that [stuff] back up," Wallace responded. "The man told you this morning it was all dead."
Soon after, 'Sheed was out.
Guard Lindsey Hunter said the Brown speculation wasn't mentioned before the game. And to think the players were thinking about it during the game is ludicrous, too. This is the Eastern Conference finals, folks. The Pistons are trying to defend their coveted and precious championship. The Heat are more than a handful and are definitely capable of ending Detroit's reign, so concentration is a must. The Pistons also reap some nice financial awards for making it to the NBA Finals.
Plus, Brown being rumored to go somewhere is about as surprising as Paris Hilton being caught on camera for another video. In essence, it's going to take a lot more than Brown linking up with Cavs star LeBron James to affect these veteran champs. They got another title ring to win. They can say goodbye to coach later.
"We don't feel as though nothing is going on with Coach Brown," Pistons guard Rip Hamilton said. "You know that's just [the media] talking about it all the time. We feel as though we have a championship to win. Like any free agent or whatever or a guy that's in his contract year, you can't worry about what he's going to do next year or whatever. You got to worry about what you can do right now."
The frequent foul calls in Games 2 and 3 played into Miami's hands, but with another whistle-happy crew working Game 4, Detroit turned the tables.
As in the previous two games, the totals were staggering: The refs blew 58 whistles on the evening, sending each squad to the line 39 times (the NBA regular-season averages were 43 and 26, respectively).
Normally, that would favor the Heat because they get much more of their offense in the paint. But in Game 4, Detroit decided to use the tight refereeing to its advantage, especially Richard Hamilton.
The wiry guard intelligently realized that he would get the benefit of the doubt on any venture into the lane and began throwing all 43 of his pounds into defenders at every opportunity. Though normally a mid-range jump shooter, Hamilton drew the two key calls of the game -- Shaquille O'Neal's third foul in the second quarter and Eddie Jones' fifth early in the fourth quarter -- on aggressive moves to the hoop. For his efforts, he finished with a team-best 12 trips to the line.
The only question is who should get the credit. Was this part of Larry Brown's game plan if they noticed the refs calling things closely early? Or was it Hamilton using his basketball smarts to realize on his own that he should take it to the rim? Either way, it saved Detroit in a must-win situation and puts the pressure back on Miami to hold serve in Thursday's Game 5.
Stan took the first shot. He had no choice. After seeing his squad get beat by 10, in a game where they were at one point down by 17, he had to let it be known that the Pistons had something to do with the way his Heat played.
"Give them credit," he said in the aftermath, "they had something to do with the way we played tonight."
Shaq held to 12, Zo held to four (scoreless until late in the fourth), Damon held to six, Dwyane held to 28. They got held to 44 percent shooting from the field and allowed Darko to play one minute.
Then, Coach took his shot.
"But that's not something I'm supposed to say. That's apparently not something that's supposed to be done in this series: Give the other team credit."
The sarcasm was classic Van Gundy. His brother couldn'ta said it better. It's exactly what needed to be said.
Now let's see if his team can read between his lines.
Scoop Jackson, from The Palace of Auburn Hills
I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or anything, but I swear, if this is basketball the right way, give me the wrong stuff. Please.
This series is tied 2-2, but other than waiting to see whether Shaq can run or Larry's running out the door, there ain't hardly any drama in it at all.
The Pistons D up, they move the ball efficiently (all five starters took ten shots or more in Game 4, and only Rip took more than 15), and their mechanics are sound. But that's just it: they're mechanical. When they're going good, the game moves at the pace of, and with all the surprises of, a Broadway dress rehearsal.
Tell me what you're going to remember from this game. Tell me what stands out. I know what they're doing is impressive in its way, and I know there's a certain philosophical appeal to their superstarlessness, but man, as a fan, it's hard to love, ain't it?
Compare this series with the West finals, where three of the four games have been dyn-o-mite, where every time you turn around, from Ginobili finger-rolling to Amare Duncan-dissing, you're seeing something remarkable, something you might use the "Save Until I Delete" function on your Tivo for.
On second thought, don't compare it. It's not fair.
Play of the Day
Dwyane Wade, Miami, dismissing the effects of Detroit's defense in Game 4, in which he finished with 28 points on 10-for-22 shooting.
With 5:48 remaining in the fourth quarter, Chauncey Billups hit a long 3-pointer from the left wing. On the Heat's next possession, Billups stole the ball, led the break and fed Antonio McDyess for a dunk, giving Detroit a 17-point lead and locking up the game.
The NBA Finals schedule was announced Tuesday night, with the series starting June 9 and potentially ending three days into summer.
No matter what, the series will start out West: The Suns had the best record in the league, and the Spurs hold the tiebreaker advantage over the Heat. (The Pistons had the fourth-best W-L record among the remaining four teams.)
The first tiebreaker is wins, and San Antonio and Miami won 59 games each. The second tiebreaker is head-to-head record, and the teams split 1-1. The Spurs won the third tiebreaker, which in this situation is record vs. the opposing conference. The Spurs were 23-7 against the Eastern conference, while the Heat were only 18-12 vs. the West.
Game 1: June 9, 9 ET, ABC
Game 2: June 12, 9 ET, ABC
Game 3: June 14, 9 ET, ABC
Game 4: June 16, 9 ET, ABC
Game 5: June 19, 9 ET, ABC
Game 6: June 21, 9 ET, ABC
Game 7: June 23, 9 ET, ABC
Shaquille O'Neal grabbed only five rebounds in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
It was the second time in this series that Shaq has been held to five rebounds, equaling the lowest total he'd ever recorded in a postseason game.
O'Neal had one playoff game with five rebounds prior to this season; it was also against the Pistons, in 1996.
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If each of the remaining games in the Western Conference finals is a tossup and maybe it is, considering Phoenix is the top seed then the Suns have a 12.5 percent (one in eight) chance of doing the seemingly impossible: completing the Red Sox-style comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
We asked SportsNation what it expects, and most fans think the series will go at least six games, with Phoenix holding serve in Game 5:
How will the West finals end?