Game 7 heaven
With the frontcourt struggling, Rip Hamilton picked up the Pistons with a stellar game: 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting, six assists, six boards.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Every once in a while, a sporting event arrives that makes you stop what you're doing, causes one of your homeys to put together a party and forces even the most casual of sports fans to pay attention.
The Super Bowl and elite championship boxing matches have that power. So do college football and basketball title games. For some, it's the Kentucky Derby and the Masters.
And in the NBA, it's a Game 7 in the playoffs.
The most highly anticipated NBA Game 7 in three years, since Lakers-Kings in 2002, is in the Eastern Conference finals, Monday night in Miami. It's the reigning champion Detroit Pistons versus the team with the East's best record in the Miami Heat. As they say, win or go home.
"I would rather play an elimination game every game," said Pistons guard Rip Hamilton, who scored a team-high 24 points in the Pistons' Game 6 91-66 win over visiting Miami on Saturday night. "That's what I always loved about the NCAA Tournament because there was no other game, so you were not allowed to let yourself come out and relax or take a game off knowing that you have another game to play."
Just how rare and special are Game 7s in the NBA?
The East finals has only produced two in the past seven years. In 2001, Pistons coach Larry Brown coached Philadelphia to a victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls also knocked off the Indiana Pacers in 1998.
Backs to the wall, and backs to the floor, the Pistons showed a sense of desperation to force Game 7, as in this 2nd quarter play by Tayshaun Prince.
A victory on Monday will earn the winner a NBA Finals matchup with the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs, beginning Thursday. The Pistons would move to the NBA Finals with a chance to win not only back-to-back NBA titles but also their fourth overall as a franchise. A Heat victory would put the 17-year-old franchise in the NBA Finals for the first time in team history.
"It's the kind of situation where I hate to see anybody lose," Detroit coach Larry Brown said. "But the reward is so great and from my perspective, I've been doing this a long time, you don't get into many Finals situations like this or Game 7s. It's going to be a long wait. I'm nervous about this. But I hope my players enjoy this.
"The thing that I dread about Game 7 is for players to worry about losing or making mistakes. I just want them to enjoy it and do the best they can. And hopefully the best team will win."
The Heat hope to have Dwyane Wade return to the floor for a potential Willis Reed moment. Otherwise, this marquee contest would lose some luster.
Wade was questionable for Game 6 due to a ribcage strain he suffered in Miami's Game 5 victory. Ninety-six minutes prior to Game 6, the All-Star guard worked out for about 20 minutes with assistant Erik Spoelstra. Wade shot jumpers and free throws and got nudges from Spoelstra while driving for mid-range jumpers.
But when the game began, Wade and his 27-point East finals scoring average were on the bench. Whether Wade can go Monday remains to be seen. But considering the stakes in the biggest game in the Heat's history, it would be hard to bet against it.
"I'm confident that he'll be playing," O'Neal said. "But if he's not, everyone has to step up in Game 7. Including me."
Brown said: "I would be really disappointed if he doesn't play on Monday after what his team has gone through and what they've accomplished."
The Heat do have one big advantage: the home floor, which they earned during the regular season.
Said Heat guard Damon Jones: "We're going home, and we've been good at home all year long. You know, win or go home. And I don't fish."
So get ready for one of those special sports event with the potential to be engrained in your memory for life. One that youngsters may one day tell their kids about.
It's the defending champs against Shaq, Flash and the Heat. Game 7. Do or die at the highest level of competition. If only we could start the game right now.
Dwyane Wade looks good in street clothes ... especially if you're a fan of the Pistons. After he was forced to sit out Game 6 with a rib muscle injury, the big question for Game 7 is, Can D-Wade go?
Shaq sat on the bench looking as if he were holding back tears. Eddie Jones sat next to him with a band-aid covering the stitches over his right eye. Udonis Haslem looked as if he had just been cut.
The scoreboard had them down 23 points a few minutes into the fourth quarter. Coming into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, it just felt as if the Pistons were going to walk away with this one before the game even started.
With Dwyane Wade out with a injured rib muscle, Miami needed yet another mega-performance by its thus far super subs and three other starters if they were going to have any hope of wrapping up this thing in six.
In the first quarter it looked as if it were going to happen. Rasual Butler, starting for the injured D-Wade, was brimming with confidence as he drilled three 3-pointers in the first quarter.
Uh, yeah. He wouldn't score again until five minutes to go in the game.
Damon Jones' clutch treys were nowhere to be found. Haslem, whose emphatic slams and baseline jumpers helped stump the Pistons in Game 5, couldn't get so much as a clean look around Rasheed Wallace or Antonio McDyess.
But the most glaring sign of the ineptitude of the Heat's role players was Alonzo Mourning's one-point "performance."
The role players simply rolled over.
The Heat were down all right. And not just on the scoreboard. Late in the fourth, Shaq shed three defenders to throw down a monstrous jam, picking up the and-one in the process. The players sitting on the bench didn't flinch. No one clapped or waved so much as a single towel.
But according to the players this one is already behind them.
"There's no reason to look at the film of this game," says Damon Jones. "We know what we did wrong and we won't do it again."
Even if Wade plays on Monday night in Miami he likely won't be near full speed. That again means Miami will need its bench.
The Heat will need Eddie Jones to wake from his funk. They'll need Udonis to bang like never before. Damon's long range bombs must be true.
If they disappear again, so will the Heat.
Chris Palmer, from The Palace of Auburn Hills
The fourth quarter of Game 6 belongs in the "What exactly were they trying to prove?" Hall of Fame.
Shaq had his best game of the series, statistically ... and the Heat lost by 25.
With Detroit leading by as many as 29 points, we should have been treated to 12 minutes of Darko vs. Doleac. Instead, both coaches inexplicably left their starters on the floor until the four-minute mark, needlessly risking injury to key players for the deciding Game 7 on Monday.
Heat coach Stan Van Gundy even put Shaquille O'Neal in, sore leg and all, despite the lopsided score. While Shaq had requested to return to the game, Van Gundy should have realized the risk wasn't worth the miniscule reward. With O'Neal still limited by a thigh injury, one wonders if playing the meaningless fourth quarter in Game 6 will reduce his effectiveness in Game 7.
At least O'Neal looked frisky while he was out there. Miami's behemoth center scored nine of his 24 points in the fourth, when he attacked Ben Wallace with as much vigor as he's shown all series. Despite the one-sided loss, Shaq's final line of 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks was his best performance of the series.
Miami's D-Wade decision: We thought he'd play. We're guessing you thought he'd play. But Dwyane Wade -- whose willingness to throw around his body has been compared to Allen Iverson's -- must really be ailing if he told the Heat he couldn't go in Game 6. And Miami was smart not to force it. Better to encourage Wade to sit and see if an extra 48 hours can make a difference at home in Game 7.
Play of the Day
What can we expect in Monday's winner-take-all Game 7?
If this postseason is any indication ... a rout.
The first two Game 7s this spring both on May 7 resulted in two of the most lopsided Game 7s in NBA history.
Dallas' 116-76 pasting of Houston to win that All-Texas first-round showdown accounts for the biggest Game 7 margin of victory (40 points) in NBA playoff history. Indiana's 97-70 triumph earlier that same Saturday at Boston in Game 7 of their first-round match ranks fifth all-time with a 27-point victory margin.
Wondering why Detroit's Rasheed Wallace was fined only $20,000 for his comments about the referees after Game 5 ... especially when Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy was fined $100,000 earlier in the playoffs?
There are two reasons.
1. Van Gundy's comments implied that he had proof to confirm that the league office was directing its referees to officiate Yao Ming a certain way. That's why his fine was so steep.
Wallace's comments were indeed stronger in a sense, but it was just an opinion. A very ill-informed opinion, but an opinion nonetheless.
'Sheed told reporters after Detroit's Game 5 defeat that they were "crazy" if they didn't expect the league to "send some, you know, good people" out to Detroit to give the Pistons an officiating advantage Saturday night.
2. As the league saw in the Van Gundy case, a harsh, expensive punishment keeps the story in the news longer. Keeping 'Sheed's fine to a mere $20,000 made his comments more of a footnote by the time Detroit won Game 6 in a 25-point rout.
The sad part, of course, is that so many citizens out there hear comments like 'Sheed's and believe them. Judging by the e-mails we get, it seems as though more folks every year believe that the league really does try to orchestrate playoff outcomes.
Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.
I sure don't remember the league's "dreams" of a Laker championship or its "hopes" for a seven-game NBA Finals last spring helping out Shaq and Kobe very much.
The Pistons ensured that there will be a Game 7 in the NBA's Eastern Conference finals with a 91-66 win over the Heat.
Detroit has held six opponents to 66 points or fewer in playoff games over the last five years.
All other teams combined have done so three times during that span.
Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
After seeing the egg the Miami Heat laid in Game 6's 91-66 loss to the Pistons, SportsNation is not optimistic about their Game 7 chances if Dwyane Wade has to sit again, even though Miami gets to play at home.
After Game 6, we asked, "Can the Heat win Game 7 without Dwyane Wade?"
With more than 20,000 votes, 80 percent of SportsNation says no.
That's in contrast to the only 57 percent who picked the Pistons to win Game 6 in Detroit, when Wade's health status was unknown.
Meanwhile, back out West ...
The San Antonio Spurs returned to practice Saturday after two full days off following their five-game dismissal of the Phoenix Suns.
With Tim Duncan (ankles) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring) taking advantage of the long break before Thursday's Game 1 of the Finals, San Antonio got another boost Saturday night when Detroit dragged Miami to a seventh game.
Yet most of the media attention in the Alamo City over the weekend has focused on the future of Spurs assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo.
Widely considered the top candidate to succeed Flip Saunders (and interim coach Kevin McHale) in Minnesota, it appears that Carlesimo will have to overcome a Latrell Sprewell factor to get the job ... even though Sprewell, a free agent as of July 1, is not expected to return to the Wolves next season.
Sprewell and Wolves star Kevin Garnett remain close and Spree, according to team sources, has urged Garnett to block a Carlesimo hire. Sprewell's issues with Carlesimo, of course, date to the 1997 choking incident which earned Spree a suspension for most of the '97-98 season.