Great defensive effort, gritty toughness and perfect offensive execution at critical times -- that has been Detroit Pistons playoff basketball. But in Game 1, those descriptions belonged to the Philadelphia 76ers, who served notice with the win that they should not be overlooked in this series.
The Sixers came out conceding nothing -- they contested shots, deflected passes and fronted post-ups. Although they trailed for most of the game, this consistent effort helped them climb back from double-digit deficits in the second half and played a major factor in the Pistons missing high-percentage shots on crucial possessions at the end of the game.
Detroit started the game with a steady diet of Rasheed Wallace in the post, where he can get what he wants one-on-one with Samuel Dalembert. But Dalembert fought for every inch inside and made Rasheed work for his points.
This kind of effort on every possession by the Sixers caused Detroit to turn the ball over a number of times trying to feed the post area. So look for Detroit to counter this in Game 2 by running some high-low sets, which take away the weakside help and allow the offense to feed the post from the top of the floor. If Wallace is posted and the ball is on the wing, look for a flash to the foul line area from Tayshaun Prince or Antonio McDyess and then a lob over the defender.
Dalembert's length makes this a tougher pass, so look for Detroit to post McDyess on the smaller Thaddeus Young or Prince on Willie Green in this set as the Pistons will look to exploit the most favorable matchup. If Wallace is the high-post flasher, he can easily slide out to the 3-point line, where he was successful in Game 1.
Also look for the Pistons to play more high pick-and-rolls with Wallace and Chauncey Billups. The Sixers forced a big turnover at the beginning of the fourth quarter by jumping this action when Richard Hamilton was the ball handler. They will also trap whenever McDyess is the screener -- Philly is content to let McDyess make decisions with the ball and try to force turnovers as they did twice in the second half.
Billups is much better in the ball handler role, and when the Pistons struggled offensively, he and Rasheed worked the high ball screen on multiple possessions. This was a defensive dilemma for the Sixers as hedging on Billups left Wallace open for the 3, and failing to commit to stopping Billups allowed him to turn the corner. Look for Philadelphia to try different looks defensively, even trapping as they did on Hamilton.
Offensively, the Sixers got supreme effort on the boards. Young used his quickness against McDyess, Reggie Evans brought Herculean effort against Detroit's entire front line, and Andre Miller used his anticipation to get two key putbacks -- the second of which gave Philly the lead in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala was ice-cold in the first half, bothered by the length of Prince, who contested hard on every jump shot. But at halftime, the Sixers' coaching staff made adjustments to get their leading scorer back into the game. Since he was shooting poorly from the perimeter, the Sixers set out to get him the ball in the post. And it worked, leading to easy buckets.
And when the Sixers trailed by 15 later in the third quarter, the Sixers finally started making the jump shots they were missing in the first half -- a result of their continued offensive action. They never got stagnant in the halfcourt and their continued defensive effort created some transition baskets. The Pistons did a decent job of getting back to protect the basket, but did not match up and get out to the shooters.
When the Sixers needed points down the stretch, it was Miller who took control with high ball screen action. Detroit not only communicated poorly, its help rotations were late, as even Reggie Evans was able to roll down the lane after the screen for a layup.
While the Sixers contested everything all night, Detroit did so selectively. The Pistons got great intensity, quick rotations and blocked shots to stretch their lead, but then settled and got passive to allow the Sixers back in the game.
Still, the Pistons got the shots they wanted down the stretch, but Wallace, Billups, Hamilton and Prince all missed high-percentage shots on key possessions. Credit Philly's relentless effort to fight every cut and screen and to contest every pass and shot. That took its toll on the Pistons shooters, and even had an affect on Billups at the foul line as he missed three fourth-quarter free throws.
Game 2 will see the Sixers come in with not only great effort but a belief that they can win the series. So the Pistons must bring a greater, more consistent effort of their own, something they now know will not be as easy as they had thought.
PREDICTION: Pistons win Game 2
Mike Moreau is the Director of Basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves an NBA Analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.