Pistons need Sonic schooling
The Pistons must reintroduce Ginobili to the wall of defenders he encountered in the first half of Game 1.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. It really doesn't matter if he's a real or an imagined candidate to be the next Pistons coach.
Detroit needs to call Nate McMillan.
There isn't a coach on Earth who can better explain how to beat San Antonio than McMillan, who has been mentioned as a possible successor to Larry Brown, should he go through with plans to become a Cleveland Brown. McMillan's Seattle SuperSonics, remember, toppled San Antonio twice early in the regular season and then did what Brown's Pistons are trying to do now in the NBA Finals.
Rally from 2-0 down.
The Sonics know how to erase a 2-0 playoff deficit after San Antonio opens a series with two cushy home wins even though without the team's second-best player (Rashard Lewis) and the best scorer off the bench (Vladimir Radmanovic).
If the Pistons make that call, McMillan would surely tell them that Detroit needs:
You'd think Detroit has such personnel, with its Wallace Brothers, Antonio McDyess and Elden Campbell, but the Pistons' quartet has looked curiously sluggish so far. Especially Ben Wallace, who has stunningly failed to reach double figures in rebounds for five straight playoff games. Seattle's platoon of bigs Jerome James, Danny Fortson, Nick Collison and even Vitaly Potapenko was far more active and effective. Who would have ever predicted that?
That means big men jumping out at Ginobili when he turns the corner on pick-and-rolls and bigs hanging back in the paint for as long as they can when he drives. In short, you basically let Nazr Mohammed roam free in hopes of limiting the damage Manu does. (Of course, it must be said that Ginobili has played at a higher level during the past six quarters of the Finals than Seattle ever saw.)
The Sonics aren't exactly known for being nastier than the Pistons, but they sure played with a physical edge in their San Antonio series. The Spurs didn't like it, either. The Pistons will undoubtedly argue that the refs have taken away their edge but they've also admitted, after the emotion melted away, that their energy has been subpar.
Billups, last year's Finals MVP, has produced, but he can't beat San Antonio alone.
Seattle's big advantage against Detroit and anyone else who has tried and failed to slow the Spurs is the ability to mix physicality with a dynamic offense. Against the Spurs specifically, that entailed moving Ray Allen to small forward to play him alongside Luke Ridnour and Antonio Daniels in a dangerous three-guard wrinkle. Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton form one of the league's foremost backcourts, but there's no wing man Brown can give them to replicate what the run-and-shoot Sonics had. The Pistons' offensive limitations are magnified now that they're facing a defense as stout as their own.
As much as Seattle believes it should have forced a Game 7 against the Spurs, even shorthanded, McMillan and Co. don't deny that the Pistons aren't dealing with the same, limited Duncan. "He wasn't as healthy as he is now," said one Sonics insider.
Scan through all of the above and you reach two conclusions:
1. Detroit's big men have to shoulder a major chunk of responsibility for the lopsided nature of the first two defeats. No way Seattle's bigs should have troubled Duncan more than a group fronted by Rasheed Wallace and Big Ben. No way. That's the first thing that has to change now that the Pistons are playing at home.
2. Even with all of the other scoring options San Antonio has besides Duncan, and in spite of the Spurs' enviable penetration and ball movement in Game 2, defense is not Detroit's biggest problem in these Finals. "Offense is their problem," one scout said. "They can't score against these guys." San Antonio had the variety and versatility to subdue the triple-digit scoring machines from Seattle and Phoenix to get here, and now they're facing a Detroit team that can't crack 80 points.
Which means it'll probably take something bigger, honestly, than a mere phone call or venue change for the Pistons to win four of the next five.
Many said the frontcourt would be the Pistons' decisive advantage. Tayshaun, Rasheed, Ben ... it's time to prove the experts right.
Parker's penetration has been a telltale sign so far for the Spurs.
The steal can be one of the most exciting plays in basketball, especially when a gambling player like Manu Ginobili is dashing into the passing lanes and starting the fast break.
And certainly turnovers are the bane of every coach.
But as John Hollinger points out in his analysis of the two great defensive teams in the Finals, the best defensive teams do not necessarily swipe the ball from their opponents.
"If you think of great defenses as swarming masses that force turnovers in bunches, these two teams might change your opinion. As great as they are in other areas, neither is particularly great at forcing turnovers. San Antonio was above average, creating miscues on 15.8 percent of opponent possessions to rank sixth in the league, but that still put the Spurs behind the Bobcats. Meanwhile, Detroit's opponents turned it over just 14.5 percent of the time, putting the Pistons in the bottom half of the league.
"Additionally, the turnovers that both teams forced tended to be offensive errors rather than sly pickpocketing. Both clubs were below the league average in steals, meaning most of the turnovers came on plays such as offensive fouls, shot-clock violations and the like."
If there's one brief glimmer of hope for Larry Brown after the Game 2 blowout, it's that Detroit's reserves finally showed a pulse.
Antonio McDyess was the Pistons' best player on Sunday, scoring 15 points in 24 minutes and adding seven rebounds.
Carlos Arroyo was 2-of-3 from the floor in a brief cameo when Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince both got in early foul trouble.
And even Lindsey Hunter got in on the act, scoring seven points or roughly seven more than expected. Overall, Detroit's reserves outscored San Antonio's 26-19, a rare victory for the beleaguered Pistons subs.
But even this bright spot comes tinged with gray for Detroit:
Arroyo sprained his ankle late in Game 2, and his status for Tuesday is still unclear. Without him, Detroit is left with Hunter as its only reserve guard, a premise which should have the Spurs' defenders salivating. (Question: Wouldn't it have been better to put Carlos Delfino on the playoff roster than Darko Milicic?)
As if losing Arroyo wasn't bad enough, consider this final thought: The Pistons' bench had perhaps its best game of the postseason, and Detroit still lost by 21.
The Pistons have totaled 145 points in the first two games of the Finals, the second-lowest total in the shot-clock era (since 1955).
The Knicks scored 144 points in the first two games in the 1999 Finals, against the Spurs.
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We get thousands of letters, and here are two that should give Pistons' fans some hope as the series moves to Detroit.
One suggests the Pistons should be expected to score more, and the other says that the officiating seems a little tilted game to game:
Robert (San Antonio): As a Spurs fan, I'm obviously happy they're up ahead 2-0 but I was expecting a bit more from the defending champs.
Is it me or is Detroit becoming about as one-sided as Phoenix?
The Suns played all offense but could not make the key stop. The Pistons play top-notch D but struggle to find the net for long stretches.
There are times you say, "That was the Spurs' defense," and there are times when the Pistons just blow another opportunity.
Scott (Grand Rapids, Mich.): Thursday's game was verification of a point I've been trying to make since the start of these playoffs. Conspiracy or no conspiracy, you can pretty much watch the first quarter and a half of any given game, see how the refs are calling it, and know who is going to win. That's been true since the second round.
When you call an offensive foul on Lindsey Hunter for using his off-arm to push Ginobili in the second quarter (a good call), and then reverse the call to make Ginobili the beneficiary of virtually the same situation against Ben Wallace in the fourth (clearly not a good call), something is wrong.
There are plenty of ways to slice and dice Detroit's scoring woes, but a simple look at some scoring averages shows Detroit needs a new recipe.
In last year's Finals upset of the Lakers, all five Pistons starters scored in double figures, led by Rip Hamilton's 21.4 and Chauncey Billups' 21.0 points per game.
This season, those two are averaging double figures again and they are the only two Pistons who are. Even at that, they are down to 14.0 (Hamilton) and 19.0 (Billups).
The starting frontcourt of Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace is averaging a combined 22.5 ppg or four points per game fewer than Manu Ginobili is scoring by himself.
If the Pistons can't reverse these trends in Game 3 and rediscover the offensive magic they displayed in the 2004 Finals, they risk giving new meaning to "Bad Boys."
On Page 2 today, Eric Neel suggests 30 ways for the Pistons to crack the 80-point barrier.
Here are a few:
As a team, you've had only 30 attempts from the foul-line in two games, while the Spurs have had 49. Seriously, that won't do.
Rasheed needs to take Duncan down on the block time and again. You're home now, there have to be some fouls in that scenario.
You had tremendous success a year ago against the Lakers by going against your own impulses in just this way. Yeah, these are the Spurs and they defend the ball well in transition, but they're going to be shocked if you pull this, and maybe you get a few extra buckets, maybe you get a Brent Barry mismatch from time to time, maybe Nazr Muhammad trips on his laces
Throughout each Finals game, ESPN.com presents The Show. It's an opportunity to spend some quality time with other fans and our host, Buzzmaster.
And from time to time special guests drop in, such as ESPN Insider Greg Anthony on Sunday night:
George (Louisville, Ky.): Why won't the Pistons post up Parker with Billups?
Greg Anthony: The Pistons haven't posted up on Parker in part because the Spurs have done a great job of disrupting the timing and rhythm of their offense. Detroit is being forced to play unselfishly.
Sarah (New Zealand): Greg, now that the Spurs are up 2-0, what's the series' outcome?