PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinals; tied 2-2.
The series returns to Detroit tied at two games apiece after the 76ers won both games in Philadelphia, where Billups was a non-factor and the Pistons could not stop Iverson from controlling the action.
Billups, Detroit’s leading scorer in the first round with 22.6 points per game, sat out Games 2 and 3 of this series after spraining his ankle in the opener. The veteran point guard came back for Game 4—possibly a bit sooner than he should have—and was ineffective, finishing with just three points on 1-of-6 shooting in 23 minutes.
“The first game back is always tough, because you’ve got some rust and you have issues with conditioning,” Carlisle said. “You also need that first game to get back the confidence in what you can do with the injury.”
Carlisle could use more offense from Billups because no one else stepped up Sunday to help Richard Hamilton, who had 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Hamilton’s teammates, none of whom scored more than 11 points, hit below 33 percent from the field (19-for-58).
“Defensively, they have been more aggressive than they have been,” Pistons guard Chucky Atkins said. “We have to turn that around. I think we can turn that around by being a lot more aggressive offensively on Allen and some other guys as well.
“We definitely have some adjustments to make. (The Sixers) did what they were supposed to do, now we go back to Detroit.”
Iverson continues to carry the 76ers’ offense, scoring on penetration and from the outside while consistently keeping his teammates involved. He’s led the team in assists in all four games, including 11 in both games at Philadelphia.
“You just have to take your hat off to my teammates because they responded real well,” Iverson said. “They did a superb job on both ends of the court.”
Five Sixers scored in double figures in Games 3 and 4, while Iverson led the way with a total of 61 points. He’s averaged 29.8 points in the series and has gotten to the foul line 44 times, making 32 (73 percent).
“We’ve got to do a better job on Iverson,” Carlisle said. “When he’s able to score and get assists, it opens up everything, his game and the rest of their team’s. We’ve got to tighten up on him and we have to do a lot of things better.”
The Pistons have already shown in this postseason they can bounce back from adversity. They were down 3-1 in their opening-round series against Orlando following losses in Games 3 and 4, but came back to win the next three games to advance.
Coleman has been a terrific complement to Iverson in the first four games, averaging 15.5 points and 11.0 rebounds. Wallace is accepted as a minimal contributor on offense, but he is grabbing just 12.0 boards per game in the series—nearly six fewer than his first-round average.
“He is playing great, especially offensively,” Sixers forward Keith Van Horn said of Coleman. “We (have) really milked the fact that Ben Wallace is always trying to help. (Derrick) is open so much on the pick-and-rolls. He has just done such a great job of either getting Allen open or getting himself open.”
If the Sixers win Wednesday, they will go home for Game 6 on Friday with a chance to win a series after losing the first two games for the first time in team history. Detroit has never blown a 2-0 series lead.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: 76ers - Iverson, 32.8 ppg and 7.1 apg; Thomas, 9.0 rpg; Pistons - Hamilton, 23.2 ppg; Wallace, 15.7 rpg; Billups, 4.1 apg.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: 2-2. Each team won once on the road. Though Wallace averaged 14.3 boards to go with his 5.3 blocks per game, the Sixers had the rebounding edge (165-158) in the series. Iverson averaged 22 points for Philadelphia, while Hamilton led Detroit with 19 points per game. Billups was held to 12 points in both of the Pistons’ losses and totaled 48 in their two victories.