Foster's dirty work cleans up Pistons

Updated: May 12, 2005, 1:12 PM ET
By Michael Smith | ESPN.com

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. -- So to answer your question, Jeff Foster is:

"One of the hardest working guys in this league," Stephen Jackson said. "He's a guy that doesn't quit, and he's the ultimate professional. When he's not playing, he's the first guy up cheering and when he does play, he goes out and gives 110 percent. Every team in the league needs a Jeff Foster, and it shows in what he did tonight."

Jeff Foster
AP Photo/Paul SancyaJeff Foster had 14 points. But it was the 20 rebounds that hurt Detroit most.

Dale Davis described Foster as, "A great competitor, a great hustle guy."

"He's paid to do all the little things and dirty things," Reggie Miller said. "Tonight he was at his nastiest and dirtiest."

"That's 'Shystie,' " Jamaal Tinsley said. "That's our dirty man."

And, boy, can the man clean some glass. The unheralded Foster was a beast off the bench for the Indiana Pacers in their 92-83 Game 2 upset of the host Detroit Pistons, collecting a career-high 20 rebounds (10 at each end -- "10 offensive rebounds in a playoff game is almost unheard of because of the possessions," Miller said), 14 points, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals in 31 minutes. That's what you call putting in work. As one of the Pacers' supporting actors, he stole the show Wednesday the way Jack Nicholson did in "A Few Good Men."

Foster, 6-foot-11, 242-pound center/forward in his sixth year out of Southwest Texas State, was a big reason why Indiana was able to come from down 15 after one and 10 at halftime to even this East semifinal series at a game apiece going to Indianapolis. Among Foster's many highlights: a third-quarter possession during which his two offensive rebounds gave the Pacers second and third shot opportunities, a put-back of a wild Miller miss that broke a 77-all tie with 5 minutes remaining, and a lay-in of Jackson's errant 3-pointer -- Foster's second offensive rebound of the possession -- that put Indy ahead by 11 with 2:40 to go.

Talk about taking over. Between the point when he entered the game in the fourth quarter (7:20 left) and when he left it to a standing ovation from the Pacers' bench, (52 seconds left and Indiana up nine), Foster had 8 points, 6 boards, and a block, and Indiana increased its lead from one to nine.

Foster's performance comes as no surprise. It's what he's done throughout his career, which started when the Warriors drafted him 21st overall in the 1999 draft then dealt him to the Pacers for the draft rights to Vonteego Cummings and a future first-round pick. Foster has been of the most productive bench players in the league in terms of rebounding, especially at the offensive end, annually placing among the league leaders in boards per 48 minutes. This year he led the league with 19.3 per 48.

He had 13 boards in 21 minutes in Game 1, providing perhaps the only positive from the Pacers' blowout loss. Foster had a lot to do with what the Pistons didn't do in Game 2, like score in the second half (33 points). Detroit managed only 20 points in the paint for the game and was a minus-9 (52-43) on the boards, with Ben Wallace pulling down only one of his 16 at his end.

"He and Dale Davis give us some guys who really grind inside," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It was important tonight after what happened in Game 1 to keep a body in Ben Wallace [15 boards, six offensive Monday night]. You get a game where he only has one offensive rebound, you know your guys are making a real effort against him."

An often-unsung performer, Foster was serenaded with cheers by his teammates as he entered the victorious postgame locker room. He didn't come out until it was time to leave the Palace of Auburn Hills, having declined an invitation to speak to the media from the interview room podium. Said Jackson, "He's not in it to be famous."

Finally, Foster, in his own words:

"It's the same thing I've been doing for going on five or six years in the league," he said. "Doing whatever I can do to help my team win, feeding off these guys, trying to rebound as many balls as I can. And if I get a chance to make a shot or get a layup or dunk or a free throw, I do what I can.

"I'd just rather give the credit to my teammates. They're the ones missing the shots and I'm just down there cleaning up. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. It's a matter of constant movement and trying to outwork my man and out-hustle my man. A lot of times you don't get the credit for it."

Wednesday night was not one of them. "He was the reason why we won this game," Jackson said, "and I don't think anyone can say any differently."

Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Michael Smith

NFL Senior Writer
Michael Smith joined ESPN in July 2004 as a National Football League senior writer for ESPN.com, covering league news and major events such as the NFL Draft, NFL Playoffs and the Super Bowl, and continues to write breaking news stories. He is also a correspondent for E:60, ESPN's first multi-themed prime-time newsmagazine program, which debuted October 2007.