SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; Pistons lead 1-0.
Rasheed Wallace had his lowest scoring output this season since his fourth year in the NBA. Once the playoffs came around, however, the Detroit Pistons knew they could count on their power forward to step up his play.
Wallace and the defending champion Pistons look to take a 2-0 lead over the Philadelphia 76ers in their playoff series when the teams meet at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
Detroit has said Wallace was the reason it won the NBA title last season, when the Pistons acquired him from the Atlanta Hawks at the trading deadline for reserves and No. 1 picks.
“Without him, we’re not the world champions right now,” said Joe Dumars, Detroit’s president of basketball operations. “He gave us just the swagger we needed.”
Wallace gives the Pistons solid inside-outside scoring and defense, and in Game 1 of this series Saturday, he helped them get off to a good start in defending their title with a 29-point performance in a 106-85 victory.
“You look at stats, and you can’t measure his value,” Detroit coach Larry Brown said of Wallace, who averaged 14.5 points this season, his lowest output since posting 12.8 in 1998-99.
“He’s a great interior defender, and out on the floor, he’s a superstar who doesn’t care about scoring. There’s nothing he can’t do. He’s as good as it gets in terms of playing the right way.”
Wallace scored 24 of his 29 points in the second half to help Detroit pull away.
“There’s no pressure on us. Most of the attention is on Miami and San Antonio,” he said. “We like being on the back burner.”
Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince finished with 23 points, Richard Hamilton had 17 and Chauncey Billups added 11. Ben Wallace tied a Pistons playoff record with seven blocks and chipped in seven points, four steals and 10 rebounds.
“I was just trying to figure out who the best player on the Pistons is, and I think I came out with a five-way tie,” Sixers coach Jim O’Brien said.
Philadelphia got off to a great start Saturday, making its first four shots and getting its first five baskets from five players. The Sixers led by 16 twice in the first quarter, shooting 61.1 percent.
Trailing 28-16 at the start of the second quarter, reserve forward Antonio McDyess sparked Detroit’s turnaround with 13 points, three above his average, on 6-for-7 shooting in the period. The Pistons outscored the Sixers 32-18 in the quarter to take a two-point lead into halftime.
“(McDyess) killed us,” said Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson, who had 30 points and 10 assists. “A loss is a loss—one point or 21 points. I don’t care about that. We came in here trying to steal a game, and we didn’t get it done. We’ve got another opportunity Tuesday.”
Chris Webber had 27 points for the Sixers, and after the game, praised his former teammate Rasheed Wallace.
“You’ve got to know Sheed to know the intangibles he brings,” said Webber, who played in Washington with Wallace in 1995-96. “You can tell what a difference he makes on their team.”
The series shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Friday night.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: 76ers - 7th seed. Pistons - 2nd seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: 76ers - Iverson, 30 ppg and 10 apg; Dalembert, 18 rpg. Pistons - Rasheed Wallace, 29 ppg; Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace, 10 rpg; Hamilton, 5 apg.