The 2005 NBA Finals are looking a little like a bizarro world version of the 2004 NBA Finals.
Last year at this time, the Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Lakers were tied 1-1 after a Pistons rout in Game 1 and a miracle comeback by the Lakers in the final minute of Game 2, one of the few minutes the Lakers outplayed the Pistons in those two games.
The question those of us outside of Detroit were asking ourselves: Are the Pistons really this good?
This year the San Antonio Spurs have bounced the Pistons out of the gym in the first two games by a combined 36 points. Detroit took a 17-4 lead in Game 1, and since then has been outscored 177-128. The carnage in Game 2, which the Pistons were never really in: 97-76.
The question now: Are the Pistons really this bad?
The Pistons looked nothing like the champions they are Sunday night as they fell behind 8-0 and never really got close. You kept waiting for them to rally, to make a game of it, because these were the Pistons, the tough defenders, the clutch shooters, the guys who are at their best when they're on the ropes. These guys make plays.
It never happened. They made a little charge in the fourth quarter. They got to 81-73 with a little over seven minutes to go after having trailed by 23 in the third quarter and by 16 at the start of the fourth. But that was it. They got no closer.
But it wasn't just that. It was that they were thrown back like minnows.
Rasheed Wallace hacked Manu Ginobili for his fifth foul and Ginobili hit a pair of free throws. After Chauncey Billups missed a 3-pointer and a wild driving shot, Rip Hamilton stupidly fouled a trapped Beno Udrih, who had picked up his dribble in the corner. Two more free throws. Then an acrobatic steal by Ginobili and a 3-pointer by Bruce Bowen.
Timeout, Detroit. Ginobili, who had assisted on Bowen's shot, raised his arms in triumph, and rightly so. The Spurs had gone on a 7-0 run in about a minute to get the lead back to 15. With 5:43 to go, garbage time was on.
The Spurs scored the next six points, all on free throws, as the Pistons veered into a ditch. Simultaneous technical fouls on Billups and coach Larry Brown. Misses, fouls, failure to rebound.
Before the Pistons scored again, with 3:20 to go and Detroit down by 21, Darko Milicic would make an appearance. Darko Milicic, the human "Game Over" light. That's how bad it was.
And yet the Pistons can do that thing where they tell themselves it wasn't so bad. The Spurs had a big shooting night and nothing seemed to fall for the Pistons. San Antonio hit 11 of 24 3-pointers, 46 percent, while the Pistons went 0-for-6.
San Antonio defensive specialist Bowen poured in 15 points, precisely 15 more than he'd scored in Game 1. It was only his second time in double figures in 18 playoff games. Meanwhile Tayshaun Prince of Detroit was held to three points, breaking a string of 10 straight games in double figures. It was his lowest scoring total of the season except for a January game in which he sprained his ankle and played only three minutes.
And yet, the Pistons were as close as eight points in the fourth quarter.
Detroit also missed a ridiculous number of layups, put-backs and other close shots, some of them contested but all of them of the "Oh, you've got to make that" variety. I counted seven such misses in a 10-and-a-half-minute stretch starting late in the first quarter, though Rasheed Wallace put the last one back in.
The Pistons trailed by 16 at the half, but if most of those bunnies had gone in, as they usually do, it might have been more like a six-point game and a very different second half. Remember, the Pistons got within eight in the fourth, and that was after a few more close-in misses. This is all sounding pretty good in Detroit.
And then there were those back-to-back backcourt steals by Robert Horry, the kind of turnover a professional team ought to commit about once a month. That's not going to happen again, and certainly not at home, where the next three games are scheduled.
Get back home, the Pistons are thinking, we can regroup, get our crowd behind us, win Game 3 and it's a whole new series.
And I'm not ready to say they're just whistling past the graveyard here. Of course I wasn't quite ready after the Pistons' seal-clubbing of the Lakers in Game 3 last year to hand them the trophy, which they captured without losing again.
Maybe I'm just always behind the curve when it comes to the Pistons. Ben Wallace is looking like guarding Shaquille O'Neal for seven games took something out of him, and if that doesn't change, the Pistons are probably through.
But I can't help thinking there's still some fight in the champs, maybe enough to win two games at home and send the series back to Texas.
Ben Wallace is due for one of those five-block, 15-rebound games. Prince, a 49 percent shooter during the year, is due to shake off his 10-for-32 slump. Rasheed Wallace, who has been less than stellar in the first two games, is due to guarantee a victory, then go out and score 20.
I don't think the Pistons have a realistic chance to win this series, something they'd need a three-game sweep in Detroit to even contemplate. But I do think they have a chance to make the Spurs sweat a little.
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Random thoughts [PERMALINK]
Yo, how tough is it to turn up Scott's mike and turn down the crowd mike? The main announcers, Al Michaels and Hubie Brown, sometimes get drowned out too. I'm not talking about during an explosion of cheering, just during regular game action.
I don't get the point of having a 30-minute pregame show, then doing another 15, or 23, minutes of pregame stuff on the actual game broadcast. Nine o'clock is plenty late enough. Introduce the starters and toss the ball in the air.
I say this about the World Series every year too: It can't be a good thing for the future popularity of a league that its championship series is played at an hour when most children in the most populated part of the country can't watch most of it.
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