- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Fans in Detroit and Indiana should be grateful that the NBA does not adhere to the Geneva convention. Otherwise, Stu Jackson would have Rick Carlisle and Larry Brown already in custody for overseeing such incredibly impotent teams and making people have to endure their playoff games. It has been torture.
Yes, I know the party line by now. It's the defense, stupid. We're seeing tenacious, maniacal, resolute and persistent defense by both teams. How else do we explain those appalling scores?
How about this: Neither team can make a shot. I don't know how you can come to any other conclusion. Yes, the defense is tough. But what's tougher is to watch these teams try to score -- defense or no defense. Even Pacers boss Donnie Walsh confessed to that after the first two games produced jaw-dropping scores of 78-74 and 72-67. "A lot of bad offense," he admitted to Indy columnist Bob Kravitz.
Yes, the defining play of the Eastern Conference finals, to date, has been one of the single greatest defensive plays that I can ever recall. Tayshaun Prince's block ranks right up there with Gerald Henderson's steal of James Worthy's crosscourt pass in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. (That theft, while not as celebrated as ones by John Havlicek and Larry Bird, has to rank as the No. 1 theft in Celtics history because, without it, there's no 1984 championship banner. And the Celtics trailed the Lakers 1-0 at the time and were about to go down 2-0, both losses at home.)
Here are two things that immediately jumped out at me after Prince's play. First, he blocked a layup by one of the better active scorers in NBA history. To me, that sums up the series: Reggie Miller had a breakaway layup and didn't make it. It almost made you wonder why he didn't pull up and instead hoist a trey. (And his winning trey in Game 1, while a great shot, came after he had bricked his first six attempts.)
The other part of the play -- which no one commenting on television seemed to notice -- is that Prince kept the ball in play. That was always Red Auerbach's definition of an effective blocked shot: You swat the ball but you keep it in play, preferably in the hands of your teammate.
That's exactly what happened. Not only did Prince block the shot, but it bounced off the backboard, where Rip Hamilton retrieved it. He was quickly fouled, made two free throws, and the game was over.
And the Pacers could look back at a second half in which they scored a total of 24 points. Indiana's former coach, Isiah Thomas, scored almost that many himself in the final two minutes of a playoff game back in 1984. Thomas scored 24 points by himself in a single quarter three times in his career. The Pacers had only 30 points in the second half of Game 1 -- and somehow won the game.
Wasn't Carlisle supposed to be the offensive-minded guy on Bird's Indy staff, with Dick Harter handling the defensive side? But it was Carlisle who introduced us to the 2001-02 Pistons, who scored 64 points in a playoff game against the Celtics and lost by two. Two years later, 64 points practically gets you a guaranteed W in this series.
No one is saying that we need to see 120-119 games again. And, yes, even 72-67 games can be somewhat exciting, but only because they're close. But entertaining? Enjoyable? No. No. It is not remotely entertaining to watch teams miss wide-open shots, pass up wide-open looks, squeeze the shot clock like a Florida orange and turn the key into the streets of Stalingrad.
The Pacers shot 33.4 percent in Game 1 -- and won. They shot 27.5 percent in Game 2 -- and lost. So they're even in a series in which they're shooting 30 percent. Bird must be ordering up the hemlock IV any day.
The Pistons are almost as bad at 38 percent, but we sort of expected it from them. They've been a brutal offensive team for the last three years. They had only four more field goals than blocked shots in Game 2 -- and won. As much as Joe Dumars wants to reprise the Bad Boys, at least those Pistons teams scored points. (Joe D himself once had 24 points in a quarter as well.) This one is bad all right; as the Dan Ackroyd character on "Saturday Night Live" would say "irretrievably bad" on offense.
We know the root problems and they go far beyond the Pacers and the Pistons. There are too many teams, not enough good players, too long a season, players who think dunks and threes are the quickest ticket to SportsCenter, players playing hurt, marketing guys stressing game presentation as the No. 1 goal and coaches insistent on calling plays on every possession. There is no immediate solution. You're going to see the Pistons and Pacers struggle to get to 70 points for the rest of the series. We all foresaw this eventuality, although we hoped the scoring wouldn't be this bad.
You won't find a single coach this side of Doug Moe (who once had the overall-wearing Brown as an assistant) condemn this atrocity for what it is. They're the culprits in all of this. The players are going to cite the defense because, well, they're not going to own up to the fact that they've become offensive defectives. Just go back in Game 2 and look at all the wide-open shots that Rasheed Wallace missed. That's good defense?
And I can't believe for one minute that David Stern and Co. actually enjoy the product as currently presented. (No wonder he farmed these things out to cable. The networks couldn't air them without a viewer advisory.) The league poobahs will all say the right things in public -- but watch the noses very carefully. Privately, they have to be wondering what has happened to their game.
After all, isn't the objective to put the ball through the hoop? It used to be.
Peter May, who covers the NBA for the Boston Globe, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
The only thing tougher than trying to score in the East finals is watching the teams try to score.