AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The first hint that the Detroit Pistons weren't going to be playing nice came the night before Game 1 when Ben Wallace sat in his hotel room waiting for his phone to ring, and kept waiting and waiting and waiting ...
The phone never rang, his former Detroit Pistons teammates having decided that breaking bread with their friend/enemy was not a good idea at this point in the season.
"They stood me up," Wallace complained before tipoff, saying he eventually picked up the phone himself and called an old personal chef to have him whip up dinner for two, with Wallace and his wife, Chanda, dining all by themselves.
Maybe they're all still friends, but being friendly is on hiatus -- at least for the Pistons.
"Forget about Buddyball," said Richard Hamilton, who had 20 points to share team-high scoring honors with Chauncey Billups as the Detroit Pistons played a nearly perfect game and sent the strongest of messages to the upstart challengers, trouncing the Chicago Bulls 95-69 Saturday night in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
This was a beatdown of extreme proportions right from the get-go, the Pistons bringing boundless energy and effort as they overwhelmed an opponent that looked way in over their heads.
"We weren't into it at the beginning of the game. It was a dead giveaway at the start when we were kind of stumbling around, balls were popping out of our hands and we got all catatonic out there. We had a chance to get back into the game, but they were the aggressor all over the place, and generally that's our calling card," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "We needed this as a learning experience."
Catatonic, eh? When's the last time you heard a coach describe his team that way?
Skiles singled out Wallace as the one player on his team whose effort he did not have a problem with, even though Wallace grabbed only two offensive rebounds all night and scored just two of his nine points after the first quarter.
Among those bearing most of the individual blame were Ben Gordon (2-for-9 in 27 minutes), Andres Nocioni (a ghastly 1-for-8 with four turnovers, including three in rapid succession the first time he entered the game) and Tyrus Thomas (1-for 5, five turnovers). As a unit, the reserves combined to shoot just 3-for-30 with 12 of the Bulls' 22 turnovers.
Right from the start, the Pistons used their quick hands to deflect passes and poke the ball away from drivers, and their quick feet and length deprived the Bulls of the steady diet of midrange shots that they feasted off in their first round sweep of the defending champion Miami Heat.
The Pistons had a 19-7 edge in points off turnovers and a 14-11 edge in offensive rebounds, and they held Chicago to just 28 points in the second half.
"The good thing was that we won a series, the bad thing is everyone telling our guys how great they are," Skiles said. "We generally play harder than our opponents, and tonight they taught us a lesson."
Actually, someone was telling Wallace how badly the Pistons were going to smack down the Bulls, but the message was coming via text rather than by voice.
The sender was Chauncey Billups, who attended a dance rehearsal by his daughters Cydney, 9, and Ciara, 6, and helped pass the time by sending trash-talking text messages to Wallace's cell phone.
The unpleasantries were all in jest, but now the message seems clear -- that the Pistons were morphing into confidence mode, that the time to be all buddy-buddy at dinner the night before a game was back in the regular season.
If it wasn't clear to Wallace beforehand, it was soon after the opening tip went up as the Pistons played with a collective focus that reminded Billups of the glory days a couple years ago.
"The championship year, we were locked in like this every night. It's been a while, but I remember it," Billups said.
So now it's Chicago's turn to try to lock in and play with the precision and coolness they displayed throughout the first round. Trouble is, the competition this round -- unlike the Miami Heat -- is a whole lot tougher, not old, slow, banged up and living off last year.
The Pistons mean business, folks, and Wallace should have got a hint of that when dinner with his old buddies never came off.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.