Single page view By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

Yes, it was supposed to be closer in Detroit. But it wasn't and it might not be.

Joe Dumars, Rick Carlisle
It wasn't long ago that Rick was all about the Pistons.

Yes, it was the fifth playoff blowout in a row. Two Game 7s, two Game 1s, then this. (Maybe Phoenix/Dallas later on Monday would be different. But it wasn't, and that series might not ever be.)

Yes, from the looks of things -- from Reggie Miller chasing Rip, to JO going 2-for-14 after he opened the game 6-for-8 -- you shoulda shut off the plasma after the first quarter.

But you didn't, because, well, there might be some extracurriculars.

Yes, this is the only rivalry left in basketball, the only series with some history. But there's something missing, and that absence destroys any possibility of what might have been.


Two games.

That's all we're talking about. Millions of dollars spent, days of negotiations, months of anticipation -- all for 96 minutes. Two games.

As the Pacers and Pistons face off in the Eastern Conference semis, everyone is focusing on the drama of Nov. 19, waiting for the next tech to lead to another jump-off, hoping that when the series gets to Indy, Antonio McDyess or Lindsey Hunter retaliates. But lost in the anticipation of ignorance is the history of this, the history that began long before that day just before Thanksgiving, a history that began the second Rick Carlisle was fired as the coach of the Detroit Pistons.

They couldn't get past this stage. Remember? That's where Detroit was. Carlisle's squad had everything necessary to beat the Nets, but couldn't do it. And even more than the Nets, the Pacers scared them.

Enter Joe Dumars and Larry Brown. The Pacers had a meltdown that year, 2003, after they started the season with the best record in the East before the All-Star break. The Pistons could see that in the future, they'd have to go through Indiana -- not Jersey -- to get to the Eastern Conference promised land.

So after televisions got tossed outside of locker rooms and players' family members got ill and bad luck met bad basketball and Larry Bird fired Isiah Thomas the minute he got top billing with Donnie Walsh ... after all that, Rick Carlisle got re-introduced to a spot on the Pacers' bench to make Dumars look like a fool.

This set the stage. Every sports analyst outside of Sopranoville picked the Pacers and the Pistons to battle one another in the ECF. This time last year, it happened and it lived up to the hype. It went six games, with the Pistons proving Rasheed Wallace was the difference.

Two games.

To get there, where they need to be, the Pacers had to win two more games, and those two games had to be against the Pistons. In the playoffs. This year.

So they let their best player off the bench, Al Harrington, go in exchange for Stephen Jackson. He was to be the missing link, the player who was going to be the difference, the player who was going to win them those two games.

Everything was set -- the plan in effect mode like an Al B. Sure! album. Jackson was their Andrew Toney, the hired gun to quicksilver the sheriff.

Then a cup of beer got thrown ... and upset the setup, screwing up the greatest series the East would have seen since Ewing was missing game-winning jumpers in the lane against Jordan.

And this is when Ron Artest is missed the most.

Again, this is when Ron Artest is missed the most.

His suspension is not about the regular season. It's not about the damage it did to the Pacers through the first 82 games. It's not about this being Reggie Miller's last season. Ron Artest not being on the floor during this series is about the Pacers' yearlong struggle to get in position to win two more games than they did last year. Just two more games against the Pistons. No one else.

Continued...


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