Monday, May 12
Pistons suffer through lost weekend in Philadelphia
By Jerry Bembry
ESPN the Magazine
PHILADELPHIA -- They couldn't shoot, with just one starter scoring more than seven points. They couldn't defend, allowing the Sixers to run their pick-and-roll offense to near perfection. They couldn't slow the opposing team's superstar, as Allen Iverson seemingly scored on every big possession en route to 36 points.
On a night when they could have seized control of their Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, the Pistons resembled the team on the verge of being eliminated by an eight seed in the first round after Sunday's 95-82 loss to the Sixers.
Leaving Philadelphia with two losses, the only thing the Pistons can feel good about is that two of the three remaining games are at The Palace in Auburn Hills. But even home-court advantage seems precarious after a second straight defeat that afterward had the Pistons sounding like the team that fell behind eighth-seeded Orlando, 3-1, in the opening round.
"We have to come out and play basketball one way all the time," said a frustrated Ben Wallace, who had 15 rebounds. "We don't want to be in this situation. If you don't get the picture right now, when are you going to get it?"
The Pistons won't get it if Wallace, with seven points, is the second-leading scorer among the starters.
The Pistons won't get it if Clifford Robinson fails to put in more than a quarter's worth of quality work in this series. Robinson has made just three of 22 shots (13.6 percent) since the opening quarter of Game 2 when he made his first six shots. Outside of that quarter, Robinson is shooting 16.6 percent in four games.
And the Pistons won't get it if Chauncey Billups remains troubled by injury by Game 5 on Wednesday. Billups returned Sunday after missing two games with a sprained left ankle, but he missed five of his six shots in scoring only three points.
The biggest problem facing the Pistons might be that the Sixers have figured out the league's No. 1 defense. Larry Brown said he called the pick-and-roll on Sunday the most times ever in his coaching career, and why not? When the Sixers ran it, Iverson either scored -- he had 15 points in the fourth quarter when he hit six of eight shots -- or created a scoring opportunity for his teammates. He collected 11 assists for the second game in a row.
"It was kind of pick your poison," Iverson said. "After a while, I just wanted to run it every play."
In doing so, the Sixers converted 11 of 15 shots in the fourth quarter (73.3 percent). And, again, let's reiterate why this series will play out differently than the opening round: Where Tracy McGrady had problems responding to the various defensive alignments thrown at him by the Pistons, there is no answer for The Answer. Iverson can get his shot anytime he wants, whether it's on the perimeter, off the dribble or floating tough shots in the lane against Detroit's frontline.
"Allen is a freak of nature," Pistons guard Chucky Atkins said. "We wanted him to give up the ball. But he is tough to guard."
|Rick Carlisle watched his Pistons let a 2-0 series lead slip away in Philadelphia.|
And it's not just Iverson. Derrick Coleman sank six of 11 shots in scoring 14 points, and also grabbed 15 rebounds, a playoff high for him this season. Aaron McKie scored 12 points in 17 minutes and Eric Snow, hobbled by a bad foot, buried five of six shots while scoring 11 points.
Playing at home provided the Sixers with an adrenaline rush, but the team wasn't giddy in victory. And they shouldn't be. To win the series, the Sixers still have to win a game on the road.
"These two wins -- it's all over now," Snow said. "We knew what we have to do now. We have to win a game there."
There's a difference how each of the teams reacted to their two losses. The 76ers dropped two games in Detroit but came away happy about how they competed; they were confident they could win. The Pistons dropped two games in Philadelphia and came away wondering what happened to their offensive execution. They even are questioning their effort.
"I'm concerned about the level of energy we're coming out with," Wallace said. "We have to pick that up."
||These two wins -- it's all over now. We knew what we have to do now. We have to win a game there. ”
||— Eric Snow
Jerry Bembry is general editor (NBA) for ESPN The Magazine. You can reach him via e-mail at Jerry.Bembry@ESPN3.com.