View Full Version : Bill Simmons: Epitaph for the Pistons

06-03-2006, 01:18 AM
Question No. 12: Are the Pistons done?

Let's rephrase the question: How are the Pistons still alive? The Cavs should have finished them off in Game 6 and lost because Detroit banked home two lucky shots and tipped in a couple of rebounds. Truth be told, the Pistons haven't played a quality, all-around game since Game 1 of the Cleveland series, when they annihilated the Cavs and apparently decided that "we can turn it on and off whenever we want."
You can do that if you have a great team. But as we're learning, this isn't a great team anymore. First, Joe Dumars did nothing to help his bench other than sign Antonio McDyess two years ago -- none of the draft picks or trades helped, and the Darko debacle, from beginning to end, ranks among the most mishandled personnel sagas in the history of the league. Second, you can't grind out those 72-70 wins anymore, not when the various rule changes reward teams that can shoot 3s and attack the basket, and it's just too much of a chore for these guys to score against good defensive teams (especially when they're playing four-on-five with Ben Wallace). Third, they have the wrong coach -- it's obvious now -- and it seems like he's getting more overwhelmed with each game.

But here's the biggest thing: These guys played with a collective chip on their shoulder for two solid years. Nobody thought they could beat the Lakers -- they crushed them. People wondered if they could defend their title -- they made it to the last game of the Finals. Nobody respected them as much without Larry Brown -- they rolled off a 38-6 streak to start the season and crushed the Spurs twice. And everything was going great, and they looked unstoppable ... and then the All-Star picks came out. Billups, Hamilton and the Wallaces all made it. They spent a weekend in Houston getting their butts kissed. And then the wheels came off. It was like the scene in "Rocky III" when Mickey tells Rocky that he needs to retire, that the worst thing happened to him that could ever happen to a boxer -- namely, he'd been civilized. And I think the All-Star Game civilized the Pistons.

In their heyday, they resembled one of those boxers who overpowered opponents simply by outpunching them, by knocking the crap out of them, by coming forward again and again and breaking their will. Since the All-Star Game, they morphed into something different, more of a finesse team, definitely more inconsistent, the kind of team they would have gobbled up two years ago. The wakeup call happened in Game 4 of the Cavs series, after Rasheed guaranteed a victory, when they squandered a winnable game against an inferior team. Great teams show up for those. Even during Game 5 of the Miami series, a deceiving double-digit win for the Pistons at home, the Heat were in striking distance despite shooting an abysmal 6-for-20 from the charity stripe. Six-for-20! And they still had a chance to win?

Sure, the Pistons still can salvage the Miami series. But Young Flanagan taught us that everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn't end, and this Pistons team reminds me of some other fading powerhouses that were symbolically blown out in a series to end their reign (the '88 Celtics, '91 Pistons and '04 Lakers, to name three). I don't think they have a chance tonight.

More importantly, I hope they get knocked out -- not because I'm tired of watching them, but because I'm bored by the whole we're-trying-harder-tonight-because-our-backs-are-against-the-wall mind-set. Is that an acceptable excuse anymore? Just look at the Western Conference, where the undermanned Suns have been killing themselves for 19 straight playoff games (and counting). No excuses, no empty promises, no tough talk ... just a gritty team that loves playing together, keeps showing up and seems determined to keep winning or go down fighting. And you thought Detroit was the tough one.

Word to the Mavs: Don't let up.

06-04-2006, 12:16 PM
Pistons prove not so hot against Heat

MIAMI - Flip Saunders might want to do what his friends and family suggested during the Eastern Conference finals, now that the Detroit Pistons' reign in the East is over and their 64-win season has officially been committed to the junk pile. "Take cover," they told the Pistons' first-year coach.

While he does that, Miami advances to its first Finals to play against another team that also has never won an NBA championship. We haven't had that since Seattle-Washington in 1978, so David Stern's league is just full of surprises, besides stirring playoff basketball, isn't it? But perhaps the demise of the Pistons could have been predicted, and LeBron James can take some of the credit, even if he was nowhere near South Beach on Friday night.

After the Pistons were denied a chance to advance to their third straight Finals, Saunders admitted that the offense that once had his team on pace to win 70 games and ultimately secured it the top mark during the regular-season started coming apart against James' Cavaliers in the seven-game conference semis.

"There's no question, when you go seven games, it wears you out," he said. "This team had a phenomenal run. They've been to the conference finals four straight years. They've had a lot of big games and mental games - this was our fourth elimination game - and it can just wear you out as much physically and mentally. There's no question that the Cleveland series takes something out of you."

Unlike the league having a championship series pitting two participants that have never won it all, this is not something new.

"I've been there," said former Pistons coach Chuck Daly. "It's déjà vu. It reminds me of what happened to us. We went to the Finals three years in a row. And then you kind of lose something, physically and mentally. It's just a natural thing for teams to go through. There's a decline that starts for these teams. It happened to Boston. Happened to L.A. Happened to Chicago. So, consequently, it's just a fact of life in the NBA. You've got to fight it and keep your spirit up."

But ultimately, it was time for the Pistons to move aside for the Heat. They were more like shoved aside in Friday's series-clinching victory by Shaquille O'Neal, who was so upset by what he called his "bad" Game5 performance, he admitted that he wanted to play Game6 Thursday, which would have amounted to a back-to-back. Isn't he 34 and too old for that? Yup, but the Pistons also didn't see an aging champ for most of their six-game series.

"He's playing now like the championship is his, like he's already won the thing," marveled Pistons assistant coach Ron Harper, who won titles with Shaq in Los Angeles in 2000 and 2001. "He ain't played this hard in two, three years. He was hurt last year, so that was the problem there. But now he's playing like a beast, with a lot of energy and he's playing smart. But he's always been one of those guys who plays his best basketball at this time of the year."

In the locker room late Friday, everyone who had never been to a Finals carried on, meaning the majority of the players. But Dwyane Wade noticed that Shaq was more subdued than anyone else.

"I only celebrate when it's really over," O'Neal explained. "Like I told the guys, 'The job is not done.'"

Not until his fourth ring is safe at hand.