Pistons up 2-0, but similarities to last year end there

Originally Published: May 8, 2007
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- A little history lesson for those who may have forgotten: The Pistons were up 2-0 in the second round a year ago, then lost their next three games.

A little reality check is in order, too, to rebut the idea that this year might be the same: The Cleveland Cavaliers had a little something to feel positive about when they were in that hole, having come back in the second half of Game 2 to give themselves a little bit of positive mental momentum to take into Game 3.

Can't say the same about the Chicago Bulls, who need to be checked for a pulse.

D. Lippitt/Einstein/Getty ImagesThis bummed Bulls demeanor is one the Pistons would like them to keep for Game 3.
"We let [the Cavs] come back, but tonight when we had them down, we wanted to keep them down," Richard Hamilton said. "We're not as overconfident as we were last year."

If overconfidence is what killed the Pistons a year ago, a measured confidence may be the No. 1 thing, at least mentally, that's driving them this year.

It was another massacre Monday night at The Palace, the Pistons jumping out to a 16-point lead after one quarter by shooting 14-for-22 from the field and scoring 11 points of turnovers, then building the lead as high as 24 before finishing with a 108-87 victory over the Bulls for a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

If Saturday's Game 1 was a 10 on a 1-10 scale of dominance, this one was at least a 9 -- probably more like a 9½ -- as Detroit's guards overwhelmed their backcourt counterparts and the Pistons' starting frontcourt shot a combined 23-for-35.

"I have seen an intensity in the locker room that's higher than I ever expected, and I love it when we have that edge, and I'm seeing it more every game," said Chris Webber, who shot 10-for-11 and outrebounded Ben Wallace 3-2 on the offensive boards. "I prayed it would be this good, but right now I don't even want to think about how good it is."

This one was a channel turner after about eight minutes, although the Bulls did go on a mini-run early in the fourth quarter by using a trapping, pressing defense to trim a 21-point deficit to 13. Chicago also got 12 points and three rebounds out of rookie Tyrus Thomas in the final quarter -- perhaps enough to earn him the starting nod over P.J. Brown for Game 3 -- but the positives, how ever miniscule they were , pretty much ended right there.

"The thing that's most surprising was that in both games we weren't competitive. They owned us all over the floor," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "We've got to somehow turn back into ourselves."

That's kind of what the Cavs were saying a year ago at this point, and they went out and turned their series around by beating the Pistons in Games 3, 4, and 5 before dropping Games 6 and 7. But the Cavs were playing a Pistons team that was way too fat and happy at that point, coming off back-to-back NBA Finals appearances and then a 64-win regular season that both drained them physically and overloaded them mentally, leaving them believing they were too good to try too hard.

This year is different, Saunders insists.

"Just how the players were talking after the game, their focus. Last year, when you win the number of games you win and you don't go through a lot of tough times, and you feel there's an entitlement to winning. I don't think we feel that now. I think we know our identity is a grind-it-out team, and when we grind it out, that's when we play our best at both ends of the floor. And I think we understand that," said Saunders, who pointed to a lockdown mentality on defense and a team-wide commitment to rebounding as the two biggest factors separating this year's playoff Pistons from last year's.

But, Saunders was asked, what about the Pistons' turn-it-off, turn-it-on persona, that flip-a-switch mentality that has caused them to turn down their intensity in the recent past when things were going well. It's bound to be a factor again, isn't it?

"We're turned on right now. There's nothing else to talk about. We're playing very aggressive, we're rebounding the ball. You know, our guys hear that so much about turned on, turned off. When they are turned on, let's give them credit and say that's the way they're playing and go with that. That's the way I'm looking at it."

Saunders actually sounded a little defensive as he gave that answer, perhaps because he knows he'll be hearing more of that same theme until the Pistons prove they've gotten past the intensity lapses that have been as much a part of their signature as anything over the past few years, an issue that speaks to Saunders' ability to get his team into the right mind-set. But after four games of the first round and two of the second, that mentality couldn't be sharper. The Pistons are looking as good as they ever have, and the Bulls appear to be utterly flummoxed as to how to stop them.

Again, though, it's only 2-0, and things can change awful quickly in the playoffs when one team eases up and the other becomes desperate.

Is that what's going to happen next when Game 3 rolls around Thursday night?

Right now, the Bulls' greatest hope may be that the Pistons switch into overconfidence mode. But from everything you're seeing and hearing from the Pistons, this time is going to be different.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

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