DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP)—As he stood by his locker, surrounded by notepads and microphones, Rasheed Wallace was in a hurry to finish this thing. No, not the postgame interview.
“We’re looking for that rest,” Wallace said Thursday, after his team rallied to take Game 3 81-74. “We can get a week in. We’re looking for that rest to try to keep guys healthy and keep guys energized.”
No NBA team has lost a best-of-seven series after taking the first three games, and only three major pro teams have won one after dropping the first three—the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2004 Boston Red Sox.
Since 2003, the Pistons have won 12 of 13 games when they’ve had a chance to clinch a series, and Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince played key roles in all those games. The lone loss was against San Antonio in Game 7 of the 2005 finals.
“It’s another game; that’s how we are going to treat it,” Hamilton said. “We aren’t looking at it like it’s a closeout game or anything like that. It’s just one more game we got to get to get where we want to go.”
And it’s one big hole to escape for a Bulls team that has climbed out of a few in recent years.
Chicago started 0-9 in 2004-05, then finished the regular season with 47 wins and made the playoffs for the first time since capturing the championship in 1998.
A year later, the Bulls started 12-19 but made it back to the postseason.
And this season, with expectations soaring after signing Ben Wallace from Detroit in the summer, the Bulls started 3-9 on the way to a 49-win season and a first-round sweep of defending champion Miami—their first series win since 1998.
“There’s always something to come back from,” coach Scott Skiles said. “I think longterm, that’s how you build real professionalism and mental toughness and all those things. You’ve got to go through some adversity, or it’s just too easy.”
The good vibe the Bulls created by sweeping Miami is gone for now, buried under missed shots and one big missed opportunity in Game 3. After two blowout losses at The Palace of Auburn Hills, the Bulls led by 19 in the third quarter Thursday at the United Center, only to see their lead crumble.
Now, the Pistons are on the verge of their fifth straight conference final and their second straight series sweep.
“When you look at a team like Detroit … they’re experienced,” Chicago forward Luol Deng said. “I think we weren’t ready for that. This is the first time for a lot of us. Mentally, they’re more prepared.”
The Pistons are showing the poise and tenacity on defense that resulted in an NBA championship in 2004, although they’re playing more zone now than they did under former coach Larry Brown.
The Pistons say that look has left the Bulls dumbfounded. The Bulls say that’s not true; they’re just not taking advantage of their opportunities.
Either way, Chicago is shooting 33.6 percent, and the Pistons’ length and quickness is causing problems. They played zone most of the second half Thursday, and the game turned.
“That had to be disheartening for them, to have us down and for us to come back like that,” the Pistons’ Chris Webber said. “I (don’t) know what their mind-frame is. I know ours, though. Ours is, ‘Close it out.”’
Skiles used just eight players in Game 3, and that included Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha, who played 9:03 and 4:32, respectively. One who didn’t get in was Chris Duhon, who arrived late for a video session earlier in the week.
Skiles said it was simply a coach’s decision. Duhon, who said he got stuck in traffic and called to let the Bulls know he was running late, wasn’t sure why he sat.
“I just don’t understand it,” said Duhon, who appeared in 78 games during the regular season and started 30. “I’ve just got to take it and hopefully wait for my chance.”
A more pressing issue for Chicago is getting Ben Gordon and Deng back into the flow, if not to the dominant level they were at in the first round. Gordon is averaging 12.0 points in this series, compared to 25.5 against the Heat. Deng, whose scoring is down from 26.3 to 18.3, is shooting just 38 percent and having problems with the wiry Prince at both ends.
An all-defensive second-team pick, Prince is averaging a team-leading 20.3 points in this series.
“Tayshaun has a way where … it kind of seems like he’s relaxing,” Deng said. “Defensively, you fall into that. That’s his game. It’s hard, sometimes, to stay intense the whole game because he’s so relaxed. He plays the game real calm.”
It’s a trap, a hole. And the Pistons have the Bulls in a big one.