DON'T BLAME RUST OR INJURIES. PISTONS WERE THE BETTER TEAM
I don't want to hear about long layoffs or Shaquille O'Neal's injury.
Please spare me every sob story that will come out of Miami with its apologetic media. The Pistons won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference 90-81 in the same manner in which they beat Philadelphia and Indiana.
They shut down the Heat right when the Heat thought they were getting hot. And ladies and gentlemen we saw the difference between these two teams in the final five minutes of the game.
The difference is simple. The Pistons have experienced the frenzy and heat of the final five minutes in intense playoff action a dozen times before. When the red light turned on signaling crunch time we saw the Pistons turn prime time, holding the Heat to one point down the stretch.
We saw Rip Hamilton hitting shots he could not make earlier and we saw Tayshaun Prince turn dead eye killer.
We saw the scowl and the howl of Rasheed Wallace. When this guy is screaming like a wolf and looking at folks with that know it all grin, then the Pistons are the best in the land.
And we saw the best coach in the NBA, Larry Brown, turn Miami Coach Stan VanGundy into mush.
Teams follow the lead of their leaders. VanGundy was frantic and confused, kicking his heals. His team played the same way. The Heat did not kick its heals. It kicked the ball away along with a chance to beat the defending World Champions.
The Heat made every bad play in the book down the stretch. That included ignoring Shaq in the middle. Instead they threw up half bait shots, many of which were swatted away by the Pistons.
This was a text book victory by the Pistons. They placed six players in double figures and I witnessed some of the most astonishing defensive plays I've seen in a while. The Pistons turn ever shot into an adventure. That is why they should be favorites to win this series. And that is why the Heat scored 25 points below its playoff average.
But the Pistons were cast as underdogs because most people usually pick the team with the best player. The Pistons, however, defy logic because they are so splendid on the defensive end.
In Miami they will cry how O'Neal was worn down because of his injury. I don't want to hear it.
He came out on fire as many of us expected. But Shaq wears down in games where he is pressed. He no longer is a guy who can dominate for 82 games in the regular season and then roar through the playoffs. There are too many miles on those legs along with the usual bumps and bruises.
And poor Dwyane Wade still does not know what train hit him. He was guarded by four men who used four different tactics. He didn't know if he was getting blasted by the A-Train or the commuter to Ann Arbor.
The Pistons defense wore on him. It caused him to shoot quicker than he wanted and in spots he did not feel comfortable in. He missed 18 of 25 shots. But Wade did not have an off game. Rather he was thrown off by the Pistons.
I dare say the guy looked like Kobe Bryant during the 2004 NBA Finals.
But this is just one game. The series is not over and there is plenty of hoops to be played.
But for one night we saw what a real champion roars in crunch time and how a pretender swoons.