No relief in sight for offenses

Updated: May 26, 2004, 11:43 AM ET
By Joe Lago | ESPN.com

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Richard Hamilton has a message for those who aren't appreciating the 48 minutes of hoops aesthetic hell taking place in the Eastern Conference finals.

"Defense wins championships," Hamilton said. "Tell them that defense wins championships."

The East team that earns the right to play for the NBA title will likely out-defend, not out-score, the opponent. The matchup of the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers has followed form with both teams taking their offensive strength -- a low-post attack -- into the teeth of two of the league's top defenses.

In salvaging a split of the series' first two games in Indiana, the Pistons shot 38.1 percent from the field and averaged 73 points a game. The Pacers, despite playing on their home floor, managed just 30.7-percent shooting and 72.5 points a game. Their struggles from 3-point range -- a combined 11-for-52 (21.2 percent) -- has kept the middle perpetually clogged.

"There's a lot of half-court play right now (and) these teams aren't able to run," Pistons coach Larry Brown said. "That'll cut down on your field-goal percentage if you're going against a set defense.

"And then I think sometimes ball movement is a problem for both teams. I think it's more guys trying to win the game rather than trying to move the ball and trying to get better shots. I think as the series goes on we'll see better shot selection."

Tayshaun Prince and Reggie Miller
APAs Reggie Miller will tell you, even layups are hard to come by.
Better shots won't necessarily mean the ball will reach the rim. With two of the NBA's most active front lines, the teams combined for 26 blocked shots in Detroit's 72-67 victory in Game 2, the Pistons coming one block shy of tying an NBA playoff record with 19. Numerous other shots were affected by the presence of swirling defenders.

"After you have a few blocks and guys start going to the basket, everyone's looking around to see who's down there before they even look at the basket," Chauncey Billups said of the challenge to score.

A new venue doesn't figure to change things, either. Throw out the New Jersey Nets' 127-120 triple-overtime road win in the second round and Detroit's opponents are averaging just 76 points and shooting only 38.9 percent at The Palace. Even though the Pistons are averaging 95.7 points in their seven home playoff games, they're not expecting an offensive breakout against the Pacers, who have limited opponents to 82.7 points a game and 40.6 shooting in the postseason.

"I think it's still going to be a defensive matchup," Hamilton said. "But we'll see."

The Pistons were familiar with the Pacers' offense before the series began. According to Billups, Indiana coach Rick Carlisle calls the same plays he used in Detroit the last two seasons.

"To know that they're going to go to that [play] makes it easier for us to prepare," Billups said.

Hamilton (23.0, 17.6) and Indiana's Reggie Miller (13.5, 10.0) are the only starters scoring more than their regular-season averages in the series. Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are the only rotation regulars shooting over 50 percent.

It's basketball only a coach would love. But even Brown admitted that both teams could play much better offensively.

"I think the effort was unbelievable on both teams' part. I think the defense was great. I think the physical play was obvious," Brown said of the first two games in Indiana. "But there were a lot of bad basketball decisions (and) that's what you see when you're in a highly pressurized situation against good defense. Guys don't always make the right decision."

After Prince preserved the Pistons' split with The Block Heard Around The World on Miller's game-tying layup attempt, Ben Wallace walked up to his teammate and paid him what many consider these days the highest compliment.

"I told Tayshaun that he was my American Idol," Wallace said.

Too bad the offenses have been as out of tune as William Hung.

Joe Lago is the NBA editor at ESPN.com.

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