With Detroit facing elimination for the first time in this season's playoffs, the Pistons are exactly where they say they like to be -- up against a wall with the pressure on. If they want to live to fight another day, they must correct some issues at both ends of the floor in Game 6 and counter some of Boston's Game 5 tactics.
The Celtics made a key defensive adjustment in Game 5, which not only led to better containment of Richard Hamilton but also gave Ray Allen some defensive relief and helped him get untracked on offense.
After Hamilton ran Allen through a maze of screens in the first four games, Boston began Game 5 by switching on Hamilton's initial cut, with Paul Pierce and even Kendrick Perkins leaving their men and moving out to deny or contest Hamilton. This kept Allen from having to fight through multiple screens and limited the physical pounding Allen was taking from chasing Rip all over the floor.
The Celtics started this on Detroit's first two possessions, as the Pistons tried to run their bunch set down on the baseline for Hamilton, which gives him a choice to either cut along the baseline on the opposite side or up the lane line on the screen side. When Hamilton went baseline, Pierce switched to pick him up, which kept Allen from having to fight through the traffic in the lane.
With Pierce's denying Hamilton on two straight possessions, Detroit abandoned this set, and Hamilton began coming off single screens, thus making things easier for Allen defensively. Without having to run the gauntlet of screens on every defensive possession, Allen was fresher on the offensive end and had his best game of the series.
Expect the Pistons in Game 6 to put Rip back into those multiple screen formations, with the Piston big men hunting for Allen to punish him with physical screens. Boston will counter by continuing to switch, taking its chances that the Detroit will be unable to take advantage of any mismatches. Look for Detroit to immediately post Allen with Tayshaun Prince if Boston makes the switch.
Detroit had numerous mismatches that it failed to take advantage of in Game 5, and the Pistons' lack of recognition is a concern for Game 6. Chauncey Billups settled for a deep 3-pointer with Kevin Garnett guarding him, Rasheed Wallace did not post up when Rajon Rondo had switched onto him, and Antonio McDyess did not get the ball when guarded by Allen.
If Boston continues a switching scheme in Game 6, look for the Pistons to pull the ball out, clear out a side, and either drive at the big guy or isolate the post man against a smaller defender. They must make Boston pay for the switch at every opportunity.
One adjustment the Celtics did not have to make was to limit the shooting of McDyess, who killed the Celtics in Game 4. Detroit did this for them in Game 5, as the Pistons established absolutely no post-up game for Wallace. Rasheed floated around the perimeter most of the night.
This completely took away McDyess' offensive game, which is at its best when Rasheed is posting and McDyess can stay in the high post or mid-range. Yes, Wallace did make 3s, but by not posting and scoring inside the Pistons did to themselves in Game 5 what the Celtics couldn't do to them in Game 4.
In Game 6, look for Wallace to post up, demand the ball and give McDyess back those mid-range jump shots. The Pistons also did everything offensively in Game 5 off dribble drives and jump shots, which is not their formula for winning.
In Game 6, Detroit will still run the high ball screen with Wallace and Billups to give Rasheed his 3s, but the Pistons must establish the low post presence and Wallace must demand the ball and make plays -- as he did in the Pistons' Game 4 win.
The Celtics got a dominant performance on the boards from Perkins in Game 5, as he out-rebounded the entire Pistons team in the first half. This was primarily due to his great energy and effort, but also to poor rotation and recovery by McDyess and Wallace.
As the Pistons' big men aggressively helped on drives, Perkins just stationed himself in an open area. Neither McDyess nor Wallace recovered quickly enough -- drifting back and relaxing in an upright stance that allowed Perkins to muscle them out of the way or quickly step by to the rim. Expect more of Jason Maxiell in Game 6 to bring a more aggressive rebounding presence.
In Game 6, also look for the Pistons to not only get back and recover aggressively, but also to prevent "over-helping" by not stepping out as high on the Celtics' drives. This may allow a clearer path to the basket for Rondo, Allen and Pierce.
With Perkins doing his damage inside and the Celtics murdering the Pistons on the glass in Game 5, Garnett was free to roam and shoot his mid-range jumpers. Although he shot a high percentage, four of these shots were aggressively contested and came with less than three seconds on the shot clock.
Don't expect those same shots to fall in Game 6, and look for KG to go more to his post-up game.
The big concern for Boston in Game 6 will be its half-court execution, as the Celtics were plagued by turnovers early in Game 5, helping the Pistons get a second quarter lead, and then got shot happy in the fourth quarter, helping Detroit come back from 17 down.
Boston played way too fast in its half-court offense when it had the lead, and Pierce, Rondo and James Posey all took quick jump shots early in the shot clock that helped fuel Detroit's fast break.
Garnett also got the yips during the Pistons' run -- passing up a wide open 15-footer to throw a pass right to Rodney Stuckey and then losing his dribble out of bounds.
In Game 6, look for Boston to settle and run more action for Pierce in critical situations, getting him the ball at the top of the floor and letting him bleed the shot clock.
Going into Game 6, the Celtics have to feel good about Allen's offensive resurrection. If they can continue to help him defensively, expect him to play a more significant offensive role. The Pistons will keep helping and trapping off of Rondo, so they will once again gamble that he can't beat them with his jump shot.
The easy baskets for both teams in this series have really only come two ways -- turnovers that lead to fast breaks and offensive rebounds. Both of these come from aggressiveness and effort. Don't expect a lack of these components from either team in Game 6.
Boston may take comfort in knowing it has Game 7 at home, and if so, the Celtics will get blown out in Game 6. Although Hamilton's injury status could be a factor, expect the Pistons to play with the urgency and desperation of a veteran team on the brink of elimination.
PREDICTION: Pistons win Game 6
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.