Miami's 89-78 win over Detroit in Game 4 Monday wasn't just one of those nights for the Pistons. It wasn't just the shots not falling, the bounces not going their way. It was a full-on butt kicking.
And leery as I am of typing these words about any NBA team in the ever-shifting landscape of a late-round playoff series, even a team that's down 3-1, Detroit is in deep trouble.
The good news for the Pistons is that there are only two Heat players they can't figure out how to stop. The bad news is that those two are Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, the two guys you have to stop if you're going to beat the Heat.
O'Neal is playing with the energy of his high-and-tight days, exposing Ben Wallace's highly overrated ability to guard him one-on-one, though to be fair Wallace has been a victim of the wheel of fortune in the officials' dressing room having apparently landed on "Look at Shaq = foul on you."
If some of the fouls Ben Wallace has been whistled for while guarding O'Neal had been called on Rasheed Wallace, Rasheed's head would have exploded. I don't mean that as a figure of speech.
In the second quarter Shaq gave every sports highlight show in this fair land its opening clip by blocking a shot, controlling the loose ball, dribbling the length of the floor, scoring on a layup and going back up court with his old signature Godzilla step.
"That was lovely," Wade said at halftime. "I haven't seen that since Orlando, when he was young."
Then he added, "And slim."
Wade is young and slim now, and the Pistons haven't been able to bottle him up for long. There was a good stretch Monday, including the entire third quarter, when the Pistons did a nice job of forcing Miami's offense to look elsewhere, and the Pistons got back into the game before Wade emphatically took over again.
With Miami ahead 62-61 a minute into the fourth quarter, he knifed into the lane, leapt around and almost over Antonio McDyess, who was trying to draw a charge but ended up lunging after the sailing Wade and bumping him for a blocking foul. Wade, falling, flipped the ball wildly into the air -- and right through the hoop.
That'll be on his next shoe commercial. He made the free throw for 65-61.
With the Heat up 67-63 a little under two minutes later, Wade scrambled to catch a pass on the left wing that Rip Hamilton had deflected as the shot clock neared zero. With Hamilton draped on him, he hoisted a 23-footer to beat the buzzer, his toe on the arc, and nailed it. Two points, crowd going wild, 69-63. The lead was soon 10 and Miami coasted to the finish.
The two Wallaces were quoted on the day off complaining about coach Flip Saunders' methods, criticism Saunders brushed off, saying players whine like that all the time, the public just rarely hears about it.
Rasheed's complaints involved his being yanked early because of his inevitable foul trouble. Ben griped that the Pistons had gotten away from their strength, that they were spending too much time working on their offense, when defense was what has made them an elite team for the last four years.
ABC commentators Mike Breen and Hubie Brown backed Saunders, citing a variety of pathetic offensive statistics for the Pistons, including the poor shooting by guards Hamilton and Chauncey Billups and the team averaging just 83 points for the first three games.
But while you shouldn't stake much on any statement I make about basketball in which I'm disagreeing with Hubie Brown, and while I haven't a clue how NBA teams should be spending their time during practices, I think Big Ben has a point.
The Pistons' inability to score is partly the result of a sputtering offense, one that seems to have forgotten about ball movement in favor of letting Billups or Tayshaun Prince go one-on-one. It's also the result of a solid Miami defense that's denied Hamilton the ability to do his patented work off screens, another product of Shaq's rejuvenation, O'Neal consistently coming out on Hamilton off of picks, forcing him to back up with the ball.
But a bigger reason might be their nearly total inability to create fast-break opportunities, which is a defensive failing. The Pistons are one of the league's more efficient offensive teams, but unless someone catches fire from the outside, they can't rely on their half-court offense. They have to get some baskets on the break to keep up with a sometimes-explosive team like the Heat.
And maybe I'm just imagining this or it's a coincidence, but it looks like not getting any chances to run lulls the Pistons into a sludgy crawl when they do have to set up in the half-court. Let's give it to Tayshaun and hope for the best. Clang.
The Pistons have a lot of problems, not the least of which is having to win three straight games, one of them on the road. It always looks like the team that's just lost has a lot of problems, and the good ones adjust and come right back. A decisive win in Game 5 by the Pistons wouldn't surprise me in the least.
But their best hope is for Shaquille O'Neal to start acting his age and weight again. Soon.
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Let's hear it [PERMALINK]
Sound is the great frontier of television sports.
There are only so many places you can stick a camera, each less interesting than the last. ABC's camera-on-a-cable, for example, which works so well for football replays, is a woozy, can't-see-nothin' waste of time for live basketball.
There are only so many reporters you can shove onto the sidelines to collect banalities from coaches and players as they enter and exit the floor.
But other than the ambient noises we're used to -- crowd, announcers, music, ball on bat, puck on stick, sneakers squeaking, pads crunching -- the sound of the games is almost wholly unexplored territory. We almost never get to hear what the people in and around the games are saying to each other.
And they're talking all the time.
The very, very occasional "wired for sound" or "miked up" segments on the various networks don't even begin to cover the possibilities. We end up listening in, on tape delay, as some coach or player wearing a wire yells, "Good one, Jimmy!" or "Whoa! Did you see that?"
No, thanks. I'd rather hear what they're saying in that meeting on the mound, in that timeout huddle or along the line of scrimmage just before the snap.
Getting to hear NBA referees' constant explanations of their bizarre foul-calling procedures -- which, admittedly, we are treated to sometimes, including once during Monday night's Heat-Pistons Game 4 -- would go a long way in helping fans understand this most mysterious aspect of the game.
Some good news: While ABC's busy finding new cheap seats to stick a camera in to give viewers an even worse angle on the NBA playoffs, it's also doing great things with sound on its coverage of the just-begun WNBA season.
The network had the coaches of the Detroit Shock and the Connecticut Sun wired for the season opener Saturday, along with one of the officials. Great stuff, especially when ABC let the on-court mikes run live, creating a sort of interplay between the coaches and the announcers.
"Television," Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer said to a ref at one point after a foul call he didn't like. "They're going to keep showing that replay."
"He's right," said analyst Doris Burke, "and we agree with him," although ABC didn't actually run any replays of the foul.
The live mike picked up Connecticut coach Mike Thibault yelling at guard Erin Phillips when she played lazy defense in the closing minute of regulation, reaching around a ball-handler trying to poke the ball away. "Don't foul, just play defense," Thibault hollered. A moment later Phillips reached again and got whistled, and Thibault screamed, "Don't! Foul!"
After Katie Smith of the Shock nailed a game-tying three-pointer with a second to go in regulation, Laimbeer's microphone, still live, caught him yelling at his celebrating players as they returned to the bench. "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Right here!" he said as he tried to corral them so he could diagram the defense for the final play.
Leaving the microphone live is a dangerous move because of all the obscenities that are tossed around on the field of play. Five minutes of Rasheed Wallace live could earn ABC a Howard Stern year's worth of FCC fines.
But the TV networks have people editing video on the fly for highlight-package bumpers. They can and should do the same thing with recorded sound. And I'm not talking clips of Ray Lewis giving high fives to his teammates during pregame warm-ups, but sound that gives the viewer a better understanding of the game.
ABC's taken a good first step. Let's hope it's not the last.
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Everything's working fine, thanks [PERMALINK]
You know a nice little side benefit of watching women's sports? Sitting in front of the TV for a while without hearing about erectile dysfunction.
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