DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP)—A dominant backcourt. A big rebounding edge. And a tight defense.
It all explains why the Detroit Pistons hold a 2-0 lead over the Bulls as the second-round series shifts to Chicago for Game 3 on Thursday night.
“We’re hungry, focused, locked in,” guard Chauncey Billups said. “We’re locked in to what we want to do right now.”
Only 12 NBA teams have won a best-of-seven series after dropping the first two games and only three major pro teams have overcome a 3-0 deficit—the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2004 Boston Red Sox.
With two blowout victories at The Palace of Auburn Hills, the Pistons are showing no signs of letting up against Chicago after sweeping Orlando in the first round. And while the Bulls led the Eastern Conference with 31 wins at home during the regular season, the Pistons were its best road team, with 27 victories.
“We’ve really been focused,” said forward Tayshaun Prince, averaging 19.0 points and 7.5 rebounds in the series. “It’s not about playing the game right now, it’s about being focused and being mentally prepared for a good team that’s going to battle us. Now that we’re going on the road, it’s going to be a lot tougher to get wins.”
They’re outhustling the Bulls, dominating them on the glass.
They hold a 97-68 rebounding edge, and perhaps making matters worse for the Bulls is this: Ben Wallace sat out Wednesday’s practice with a bad back, although he is expected to play Thursday.
The Pistons’ dominance extends to just about every area, though.
“They’re not leaving Kirk (Hinrich) or Ben (Gordon) on the perimeter,” Deng said. “They’re definitely more aware of us on the perimeter. The last game, I kind of got the idea of attacking more and not settling for jump shots. That’s the adjustment I have to make.”
Deng followed up on his best season with a breakthrough performance in the first round, averaging 26.3 points and 9.0 rebounds in a sweep of defending champion Miami, but those numbers are down to 17.0 and 6.0 against the quick and long Pistons. Prince gets some credit for that, but while calling him “underrated” and “one of the best small forwards in the league,” Deng also pointed out the Pistons are playing more zone than man-to-man.
The Bulls figured they would have a tougher time against Detroit than they did with Miami but certainly did not envision shooting 33.6 percent. Nor would they have predicted the Pistons hitting 48.1 percent of their shots, going 18-of-37 from 3-point range.
“One, we’re moving the basketball better,” Detroit coach Flip Saunders said. “And our guys have had a lot better concentration. That’s led to more open shots. We’re moving the ball better. We’re getting more early, open, aggressive type shots.”
Gordon has been in foul trouble and is shooting 31.3 percent, which explains why his average is down from 25.5 against Miami to 10.0, while Billups is averaging 17.0 points in this series. Richard Hamilton has a 44-17 scoring edge on Hinrich, who had a rough first round.
He had foul problems in Game 1 against the Heat and made just one of seven shots, finishing with two points, three assists and four turnovers. He also tossed his mouthpiece into the seats, resulting in a $25,000 fine. And after two good performances, he was 2-for-12 with six points in Game 4.
Hinrich shot well against the Pistons in the opener but not often enough, going 6-of-7 with 15 points and six assists, and Game 2 was another rough one for him. This time, he was 0-for-7 with two points.
And while Hinrich was adamant, “I’m confident, real confident,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles was emphatic, too. If anyone is shaken, they need to get over it.
“I talked to (Hinrich), he seems OK,” the coach said. “Honestly, I don’t think I should have to answer that question at this point. This is the NBA. These are the playoffs. We’ve earned our way here. We ought to earn our way right now without having to worry about whose confidence is shaken.”
Skiles sees no reason for any of his players to be rattled. Instead, he sees too many missed opportunities. Too many instances where his team passed up open jumpers, even though the Pistons are making it difficult.
“If we weren’t getting looks, if we didn’t have anybody open, then you’d have to stop and say, ‘Wow, we’ve got a lot of issues we really have to address,”’ Skiles said. “Guys could be wondering on a day off, ‘How am I even going to get a shot?”’