AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- In this hip-hop era, Detroit Pistons guard Rip Hamilton has coined a catchphrase with his teammates: "If it ain't rough, it ain't right."
Living life in the rough
Hey Pistons, be careful what you wish for against the heated Miami Heat.
The Pistons entered Thursday with their backs pressed against The Palace at Auburn Hills, down 0-1 in the Eastern Conference finals with two games in Miami looming. And even when the Pistons seemed poised for an easy big win, they made it rough again by blowing a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead. Detroit allowed 17 points in the final 1:46 before hanging on to a rough 92-88 Game 2 victory over the Heat to tie the best-of-seven series.
''What happens so many times, you get near the end of the game, you start playing not to lose instead of playing to win,'' Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. ''So you get not aggressive, you don't make concentrated decisions, and you wait for the clock to keep rolling for the game to end. So you lose some of your concepts that you want to stay with. There's no question that we did not end the game the way we'd would like to end the game.''
If it ain't rough, it ain't right.
The Pistons had the NBA's best record and seemed like a lock to return to the NBA Finals again. With four NBA All-Stars on their roster, including an MVP candidate in Chauncey Billups, why should you think anything different at the end of the season if you were being truly objective?
But then LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers wanted to make everyone witnesses that they were for real. The two-time defending Eastern Conference champions were actually one loss from elimination after Cleveland took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven second-round series.
But knowing the Pistons' background, you knew they would come back and win that series.
After being down 3-1 to Orlando in a first-round series in 2003, the Pistons came back and won. In 2004, the Pistons were down to New Jersey 3-2 in the second round before coming back to win the series. Detroit won a Game 7 on the road at Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
If it ain't rough, it ain't right.
Some people like drama, and the Pistons are one of those peeps. But sometimes, that way of life can come back to haunt you. Such was the case as the Pistons lost a deciding Game 7 of the 2005 NBA Finals at San Antonio.
Like the 2005 NBA champion Spurs, the Heat are not a team for the Pistons to mess around with. Miami has NBA superstars such as Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade and is loaded with veterans who have been there, done that. Sure, the Pistons have a chip from losing the NBA Finals last year. But the Heat may have a bigger chip from being knocked out by Detroit. Miami is thirsty for its first NBA Finals appearance. Oh yeah, the Heat think the media are against them, too.
"We don't get credit," said Wade, who scored a game-high 32 points. "'They was tired.' That's what y'all [the media] said. That's why they won the first game. We won one, go back to Miami, come out with a lot of intensity."
There's very little margin for error against Miami. The Heat are more than capable of knocking off Detroit and aren't scared of the East power. But with the series tied 1-1 on the way down to South Florida, the Pistons wouldn't want it any other way. If it ain't rough, it ain't right, right?
"It was fun," Hamilton said. "It's 1-to-1. Now our job is to try to go down there and get one and hopefully do it."
Marc J. Spears covers the NBA for The Denver Post and is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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Along with Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal (21 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks) gave Miami a solid effort. But it's the supporting cast that came up short in the 92-88 Game 2 loss.
All in all, it was a good trip to Detroit for the Miami Heat. They got out of Motown with a split, and even in losing the second game put enough of a scare into the Pistons to have the Heat feeling good about the next two in South Florida.
That's pretty remarkable considering they didn't have Udonis Haslem.
What's that, you say? Haslem was there for the first two games? Could have fooled me. I did see somebody wearing jersey No. 40 for Miami, but I'm still not convinced it was Haslem. All I know is, the guy in that uniform shot 1-of-12 in two games in Detroit, scoring all of two points in 53 minutes. On Thursday, his second straight brutal outing earned him a seat after 16 minutes, a good chunk of which came while the Heat were getting blown off the floor in the first quarter.
It's not quite time for anything rash quite yet, but if Haslem continues to struggle like this, Pat Riley will have to make a lineup change. Riley prefers to have Haslem on the court if he can, knowing that Detroit's Rasheed Wallace can score in the post at will against Antoine Walker, but Riley may have no choice if the offensive cost is going to be so severe.
With opponents focused on neutralizing Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal, the Miami role players, such as Haslem, tend to get plenty of wide-open jump shots. The problem in Haslem's case is that he hasn't made any of them in the first two games -- and that gives Detroit even more latitude to attack Wade and Shaq.
Moreover, Miami already has one key starter struggling. Point guard Jason Williams, slowed by knee tendinitis, finished with seven points and three assists and once again gave way to Gary Payton at crunch time. Williams' knee is an unfortunate reality for the Heat, but Haslem needs to break out of his slump fast. Otherwise, it's tough to see how the Heat can beat the Pistons when two of their starters are so far below par.
-- John Hollinger
Suns center Boris Diaw's 34-point effort in the Game 1 Western Conference finals win over Dallas was impressive. Here are ESPN draft expert Chad Ford's early reviews of the flying Frenchman:
May 13, 2003: Ford's first report on Diaw
It's clear he has great point-guard skills for someone who's 6-foot-9. He takes the occasional shot and swishes it, but it's still tough to get a read.
The problem with Diaw is that he's smooth. He makes playing basketball look effortless. That's great after you've already made it. But if you're still fighting to get drafted, it causes its share of problems. Teams have questioned Diaw's aggressiveness and effort all year.
It appears to us he's trying. He just doesn't break a sweat doing it. It's easy to see why teams are in love with him.
Diaw's mother was a Hall of Fame basketball player in France. From an early age she taught her son how to play. She drilled him in the fundamentals of Euroleague basketball and scolded him whenever he got too selfish.
His mother still gets on him if he shoots too much. It's a blessing and a curse. Diaw may be the best big playmaker in the draft after LeBron. He's an athletic point forward with fantastic court sense. But he's also his team's seventh-leading scorer. When's the last time a small forward averaging less than 10 points per game was a lottery pick?
Ford's final report right before the 2003 draft:
He may be the toughest guy in the draft to get a good read on. He looks like a shooting guard or small forward with that body and athleticism. But no one seems to be able to explain the lack of offense in his game.
He's got the tools, but he doesn't have the results. Look closer. At 6-foot-9, Diaw's one of the best passers in the draft. He has a pure point-guard mentality that has him always looking to set up his teammates.
When he's in the open floor, he's always prepared to make the extra pass. He may be the most unselfish player in the draft. He has a nice body and is a great athlete with a long wingspan and quick feet. He's already an established defender.
His outside shot needs work, and he looks pretty soft. How will he handle the physical grind in the NBA? There are still a ton of question marks on Diaw, but, bottom line, he's the type of guy who does all the little things that help you win games.
Detroit led by as many as 14 in the third quarter and hung on for a 92-88 Game 2 win over Miami.
Pistons Even Series, 1-1
AP Photo/Gary Malerba
Referee Dick Bavetta showed some classic boxing-out skills when he separated Pistons guard Richard Hamilton from Heat swingman Shandon Anderson following a foul. Bavetta later incurred the wrath of Tayshaun Prince, whose request for a timeout in the final minute went unheeded.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
The Mavs scored 118 points in Game 1, and this phase of their game is not the reason they lost. However, they need to realize why they were in position to win and continue to do those things in Game 2. Following are the things they need to do offensively:
(1) Slow down the pace. They cannot get into a track meet with the Suns. They will lose that battle. They need to push the ball but they cannot take quick shots or long 3-point shots without first driving the ball to the rim or pounding it inside.
(2) With their size and length, they need to continue to punish the Suns inside. They had 18 offensive rebounds in Game 1 with Dirk Nowitzki dominating the offensive boards. They killed the Suns with second-chance points, and they need to get the ball into the paint and get all over the glass.
(4) Keep getting the ball to Nowitzki and Jerry Stackhouse at the foul line/elbow area in isolations. When they have the ball in these areas, these two players are impossible for the Suns to guard, given proper spacing and vision of double teams.
(5) Keep utilizing the bench and wear down the Suns. The Mavs' bench is much deeper, and the longer the series goes the more the bench will be a factor. The Mavs played 10 players and outscored the Suns' bench 36-11.
How many times have you heard, "Defense wins championships"? I have heard this glorious statement roughly 1,000 times and have dreamt about it even more. Sick, but true.
What we are witnessing in these playoffs is almost sacrilegious. Phoenix is actually trying to win an NBA championship with a total disregard for the hallowed concept of defense. The Suns are changing the face of playoff basketball, and they are making the other guys adapt to them.
If the Suns pull this off, coaches will have to formulate a new line. Players will look at their coaches and say "baloney" when their coach tells them the importance of stopping the other team.
I can just hear it.
"Come on, coach, Phoenix won the championship and didn't play a lick of defense."
Horrors of all horrors, three out of the four teams in the conference finals allowed their opponents to shoot over 50 percent. Is this new, dangerous philosophy contagious?
Ranbir, Phoenix, AZ: When will the naysayers and doubters finally give Steve Nash the credit he deserves? It was utterly shocking to me, a long time fan of Scottie Pippen, to hear Scottie deride Nash as undeserving of his MVP award on ESPN TV. With his own history of deserting his team at a crucial juncture in the playoffs and riding Jordan's coattails for many of his titles, his comments were shallow and hypocritical. A couple of games in which Nash did not score against the Clippers (he was still dishing out his normal assists) cannot wash out the wonders he worked for an undermanned Phoenix team for 82 games.
Ric Bucher: This is the problem with any and all criticism directed at Steve Nash: He didn't anoint himself the league's two-time MVP. He hasn't done anything except play through injuries, make unheard-of players household names by getting them easy shots and showing a mental toughness and gutsiness down the stretch in every game he's played. If you don't think he's an MVP, fine. Take it up with whoever put him first on their ballot. Talk about how the league has changed the game so in the last two years dribble penetration has become the most important weapon you can have, thereby making Steve Nash and his otherworldly handle so, uh, valuable. Recognize how the game has "evolved," as another chatter mentioned. But stop cracking on Steve. Because what it sounds like from every ex-player I've heard talk about it is: Jealousy.
Brian Phoenix, AZ: I am amazed how the Suns have done so well these playoffs with no big guys and a seven-man roster, now looking like a six-man roster. Are you that shocked too?
Ric Bucher: I'll truly be shocked if they survive this series. There are no multiple-day breaks in this one and that loomed large in the last series with Game 7. What I find interesting is that Dallas must now adjust to Phoenix the same way they made SA adjust to them -- playing small, having their All-Star PF play as their biggest player on the floor. They're a little better equipped athletically than SA, but their smalls are not as, uh, savvy as the Spurs' smalls were.