Rip: "That's what we do!"
How about this line for Rip? 48 minutes, 11-for-16 shooting, 22 points, seven assists, one win.
MIAMI -- Bellowing from the depths of the Detroit Pistons' showers, guard Rip Hamilton could be heard but not seen from the locker room area.
"That's what we do!" Hamilton repeated loudly, over and over on Monday night.
The defending champion Pistons advanced to the NBA Finals with an 88-82 road victory against the Miami Heat. And from the start of the season to their next stop in San Antonio, the way the Pistons have been able to "do" it was somehow finding a way to overcome the most trying of obstacles again and again.
"Well, it's been a crazy season, man," Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said. "This season has presented a different challenge for us because now this season, we come in and we're the hunted."
The Pistons' title defense was overshadowed by the events of Nov. 19, 2004, always to be remembered as one of the worst days in sports -- after a Pistons home loss, idiotic fans fought with Indiana Pacers players. The whole world watched the replays over and over again in amazement.
"We went through a whole lot this year with the brawl," Hamilton said.
Dwyane Wade's valiant return to the Miami lineup and his 12 third-quarter points were only two more obstacles for the Pistons to overcome.
Pistons coach Larry Brown also dealt with major health problems. The Hall of Fame coach missed six games in November and 10 in March because of hip surgery and also missed another game with the flu. Detroit was 9-8 without Brown. He is still plagued by a bladder problem and has said that a bad medical report after the season could end his illustrious coaching career.
"Everything that went on took a toll on our team for a while," Billups said. "Coach Brown not being healthy has taken a toll on our team. It's just been tough. But to win a series like this is validation that we have some tough players on our team and we just always persevere."
The Pistons also had to deal with rumors surrounding Brown's potential departure to become the new president of the Cavaliers. The Pistons' return to the NBA Finals has kept Brown's future plans from being revealed.
"Everybody has speculations," Hamilton said about Brown. "But the one thing with us is we know that we have a great group of guys in our locker room, we have a great coaching staff and you really can't believe what people say outside of that. We're the same group of guys that won the championship last year, with the same coaching staff. Regardless of what people say, we have to go out and try to win it again and we can't get caught up on what people say."
The Pistons have also come back from deficits in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Indiana and twice in the East finals against Miami to win the series. From their come-from-behind play in recent seasons, an argument could be made that no NBA team has ever responded better with their backs against the wall than these Pistons. Despite being the champs, Detroit expects to be the underdogs during the NBA Finals. But considering everything they've overcome this season, it's tough to bet against this resilient Pistons bunch.
Don't forget what Rip said. That's what they do.
"We don't worry about the odds," Pistons center Ben Wallace said. "We're the defending champs and we don't worry about the odds in the locker room. Those are the type of guys we have here. We've been in tough situations before. We won a championship before. So we know what it takes."
The backcourt that plays together ... goes to the Finals together.
Shaq and Wade dominated the series at times, but they couldn't overcome their untimely injuries and the determined Pistons.
The Big Aristotle is now The Big Question Mark.
Assuming no sweeping changes to the collective bargaining agreement, Miami will have to spend the offseason deciding whether to grant Shaquille O'Neal a contract extension after next season. This is a prickly issue for Shaq, as one reason he demanded a trade from the Lakers was because of ownership's unwillingness to extend his deal.
However, it will incredibly expensive for the Heat if Shaq has the same asking price he gave L.A. O'Neal reportedly wanted a two-year extension at about $30 million a season. That's awfully high for a player whose availability has declined in recent seasons thanks in equal parts to his immense size, aversion to conditioning and arthritic toe.
The Heat have the option of calling Shaq's bluff and letting him play out next season -- it's not like there are other teams sitting on $30 million in cap room.
However, that strategy comes with a huge risk. Shaq may feel embittered enough to take less money somewhere else -- he hardly needs the money at this point. That would leave the Heat with the uncompensated loss of a superstar, which is always a tough sell to the fans.
Miami's best bet may be to try to reward Shaq with an extension but negotiate the numbers down to something less extravagant.
It's hard to imagine him playing more than 70 games in a season in the next few campaigns, and O'Neal's inability to play at 100 percent in the Eastern Conference playoffs was a major reason Miami couldn't fend off Detroit.
Thus, the Heat could make a case that a deal in the $20 million range -- still more than most NBA maximum contracts -- would be more than ample reward for his services. But there's an even better selling point for Shaq: The reduced price also might help Miami afford a few new teammates who could help him to another ring.
Dwyane Wade, Miami: We pardon Wade for his 0-for-6 fourth quarter, given that he needed a pain-killing shot just to suit up. Don't forget, furthermore, that Wade scored 12 points in the third quarter to put Miami in a position to win. "When someone has to shove a needle in your chest just so you can go out and play ..." said Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, taken aback that someone could ask if Wade's effort to play through a rib strain was satisfactory.
Play of the Day
A brief update on the four big storylines Marc Stein identified on the morning of Game 7:
(1) Dwyane Wade's rep: As tough as we thought he was.
(2) Shaquille O'Neal's divorce from Kobe Bryant: Shaq's season of vengeance ends with a Big Letdown.
(3) The Pistons' legacy: Can still go back-to-back and make us eat crow again.
(4) Larry Brown's future: It's still looking like Cleveland, even if the Pistons repeat.
Miami got 47 points from Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade, a surprisingly positive development given the health question marks surrounding both entering Game 7.
Plus, Miami got another 13 from Udonis Haslem and 11 more from the bench.
So they were on their way to victory, right? Wrong.
Miami was undone by their other two starters, Damon Jones and Eddie Jones. Damon played 32 minutes but you'd never know it from his stat line: one point, two assists. He was slowed when he sprained his ankle in the first quarter and never recovered, committing a crucial turnover in the final two minutes and then missing a key foul shot moments later.
The other Jones wasn't much better. Eddie shot just 4-for-12 and finished with 10 points, three of which came by the grace of God after he threw up a half-court prayer at the halftime buzzer. It was his third straight horrendous effort, as he managed seven points in Game 5 and just three in Game 6.
The Pistons were only the second team in NBA postseason history to win Game 7 on the road after trailing at the end of the third quarter.
Among the 60 visiting teams to trail a Game 7 after three quarters, the only other team to win was the 2002 Lakers -- Shaq's Lakers -- with an overtime victory in Sacramento in the Western Conference finals.
Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Give SportsNation credit for its collective analytical skills.
The Nation's voters correctly identified three of the X-factors for Game 7: Eddie Jones, Damon Jones and Rasheed Wallace.
As explained above, the Joneses (see Item 7) and Wallace (see Item 5) were indeed keys to the outcome, just as SportsNation said they would be when voting prior to Game 7:
Which role player most needs to come up big in order for Miami to win?
Which of Detroit's weapons most needs to come up big in order for Detroit to win?
When Detroit and San Antonio suit up on Thursday, Robert Horry will set a record he probably isn't even aware of: Big Shot Bob will face his sixth different team in the NBA Finals.
Shaquille O'Neal had a chance to join Horry in this category, but his Heat fell a few points shy Monday night.
Here's the remainder of the top five, including three Bulls teammates:
Shaq has faced the Rockets, Pacers, 76ers, Nets and Pistons.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen played the Lakers, Trail Blazers, Suns, SuperSonics and Jazz.
Horace Grant faced the same first three opponents as Jordan and Pippen, then the Rockets after he moved to the Magic, and then the Sixers after he moved to the Lakers.