Commentary

Pistons looking much better, but Cheeks plans on return trip

Originally Published: April 30, 2008
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

PistonsD. Lippitt/Einstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe Pistons' starting five was a formidable crew in Detroit's 98-81 Game 5 win over the 76ers.

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- "See you back here," Mo Cheeks said mischievously as he walked off the interview podium.

And the Philadelphia 76ers coach wasn't talking about next season.

Pretty bold words coming from the mouth of a coach whose team had just gotten run out of The Palace, eh? You had to wonder where Cheeks got the gumption to say such a thing on a night when his team was even more outclassed than it was in the second half of Game 4 two nights earlier -- the point when this once-surprising series took a sharp turn toward normalcy.

All the things the Pistons did right over those last two quarters in Philadelphia were done right again for all four quarters of Tuesday night's game, and Detroit's 98-81 victory left the Pistons looking very much in control of this series.

Of course, they looked to be in control during the third quarter of Game 1, and we all remember what happened then. And the looked they polar opposite of in control throughout Game 3, when the Sixers put them in a 2-1 hole.

So maybe Cheeks knows something the rest of us don't, or maybe he's just expecting what half of Detroit is expecting: that the Pistons have another half-hearted effort left in them, and it'll be on display Thursday night.

"The series is not over until someone gets four wins. They'll zap our spirit when they get four wins. They haven't zapped it yet," Cheeks said.

The spirit might have been there, but the will to stop the Pistons was sorely missing for the Sixers right from the get-go. Detroit opened the game by making 14 of 17 shots, and the 14-point lead that the Pistons ended the first period with never dipped below double digits the rest of the night.

All of the Pistons' starters were superb, beginning with Rasheed Wallace's 19 points and six blocks as he played under control and kept his focus steady -- at least until the moment when he blurted out from the interview podium, "Our booty holes didn't get tight," mentioning on his way out that he had caught himself before saying something even more R-rated.

Chauncey Billups had his best game of the series with 21 points and 12 assists, Richard Hamilton shot 10-for-17 and scored 20, and Tayshaun Prince cooled off from his 90.4 percent shooting from the previous two games but still went 8-for-14 for 17 points. Jason Maxiell, starting again in place of Antonio McDyess, contributed a strong line of six points, 11 rebounds and three of the Pistons' 12 blocks.

"Going into Thursday, at least our guys know what's the recipe for success," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "We know where we are, we know where we were at, and you never want an opportunity to slip away."

Saunders said the Pistons stuck Tuesday to their tactical adjustments of keeping the floor properly spaced and staying patient on offense, saying his team had been acting like it was trying to climb out of quicksand in the first three games.

The Pistons shot 58 percent from the field, a number that was only slightly off the 61 percent clip the Pistons were at following the end of the third quarter when 86-year-old owner Bill Davidson, who was making only his third appearance of the season in the building he owns, decided it was time to be wheeled to his waiting limo to be a step ahead of the traffic for his short ride home to nearby Bloomfield Hills.

On the Sixers' side, there wasn't much positive to talk about other than Andre Iguodala breaking out of his series-long offensive slump and scoring 21 points -- although he did account for a third of Philadelphia's 18 turnovers.

[+] EnlargeSamuel Dalembert
Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesSixers center Samuel Dalembert hoped this new 'do would do the trick and inspire the Sixers to a Game 5 victory.
But at least there was something to talk about on the Philly side of the arena, and believe you me, Samuel Dalembert's haircut kept plenty of folks buzzing throughout the evening.

"I told him that should be a team fine for showing up like that," Wallace said of Dalembert, who had his hair shaved into a Mohawk but left enough stubble on the sides to have the initials "S.D." (he said it meant "strong defense") carved on one side of his noggin and the initials "L.J." (he wouldn't disclose the meaning, saying it was private) shaved out of the other side.

The haircut took more than two hours and was given to Dalembert by a childhood friend of teammate Willie Green.

"I said I'm looking for something crazy, and I'm in Detroit," Dalembert explained. "I wanted to loosen the guys up a little bit."

Maybe it made them too loose. Something certainly did.

But maybe there's something else in play here, too, because maybe the Detroit Pistons are going to revert to their sup-par form from earlier in this series and play another stinker two nights from now.

And maybe, just maybe, that's why Cheeks threw out his quasi-guarantee before exiting the building.

We'll see soon enough whether Cheeks turns out to be a fortune teller, or whether he was merely talking out of his booty, as Sheed might say.

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