Bucks’ Ford shows brilliance against patient Pistons

MILWAUKEE (AP)—T.J. Ford studied Sunday how he was finally able to break down the Detroit Pistons’ formidable guards.

The Bucks trail Detroit 2-1 in the Eastern Conference series with Game 4 on Monday night.

Ford’s career-high 15 assists in Milwaukee’s 124-104 victory on Saturday night was just off the franchise’s playoff best of 16 set by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson and twice tied by all-time Bucks assist leader Paul Pressey.

“Those are some of the greats,” Ford said Sunday. “I want to finish my career here and hopefully one day my jersey can be retired with the Bucks, too.”

Some thought Ford’s career was over in February 2004.

A lottery pick in the 2003 NBA draft, Ford landed hard after driving to the basket and temporarily lost feeling in his extremities for the third time. He bruised his spinal cord and underwent cervical spine fusion surgery, forcing him to take off the 2004-05 season when the Bucks went 30-52.

During Ford’s time away from the NBA, he went to former player and coach John Lucas in his hometown of Houston to rehabilitate.

Now, the frenetic Ford is showing a microcosm of his season in this series by going from frustrating, with six assists and seven turnovers in two losses at Detroit, to fantastic, finishing with just one turnover to go along with his 15 assists on Saturday.

“Whether he’s getting to the paint to score or whether he’s getting to the paint to find somebody, his aggressiveness really stands out,” said veteran Joe Smith. “When he plays that way, we’re a better team.”

Meanwhile, the Pistons, who allowed the Bucks to score more points on them than anyone since 2001, returned to their consistent plan—and practice schedule—after the uncharacteristic blow out.

“Same like it always is,” Chauncey Billups said. “That’s why we’re so good. We don’t really change, we don’t press, we stay poised. They had a good game, you’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”

In the 2004 title run, the teams split the first two games in Detroit, but the Pistons easily beat Milwaukee in Game 4 en route to winning the series in five.

While Milwaukee has five players, including two starters, in their first postseason, all of Detroit’s key players are back from that 2004 team.

“It’s a new day,” said Pistons coach Flip Saunders, in his first year with the team. “They’ve been there many, many times.”

But Richard Hamilton has struggled to recover from a sprained ankle.

The frustration from his lack of explosiveness seemed to boil over when he was called for a technical and, when the game was well out of reach, an elbow to the face of Michael Redd, who torched him for 40 points while the Bucks shot 60 percent from the field.

Hamilton downplayed both, saying he and Redd are friends and that he’s getting stronger.

“We’re up 2-1, that’s the plus of the whole thing,” Hamilton said. “My teammates have been great out there, I just want to continue to try and get healthy.”

But Hamilton’s production has been decreasing as the series wears on.

Hamilton went from 21 points in Game 1 to 18 to just 10 on 4-of-14 shooting in the loss. He’s now shooting just 36 percent for the series.

“He hasn’t been able to get much of his timing in practice, so he’s tried to use the games to get into a rhythm,” Saunders said. “It’s tough to do.”

The Bucks also are battered, but managed to produce at home. Mo Williams scored 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting despite an ankle injury, while Toni Kukoc (back spasms) went 3-for-4 from 3-point range and had six assists of his own. Both plan to play in Game 4.

“I have a lot of respect for what Toni not only has done this year, but what he’s done in his career,” Bucks coach Terry Stotts said. “He knows how to play. He’s been in this position before and he just kind of infused some life.”

And with that life, the Bucks again have a chance. But what do the Pistons do to adjust their game?

“I don’t think they can repeat that performance,” Rasheed Wallace said. “Ain’t nothing going to change but the weather.”

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Detroit
C. Billups C. Billups
7-16,  26 Pts
6 Rebs, 6 Assists
 Milwaukee
T.J. Ford T.J. Ford
2-5,  7 Pts
7 Rebs, 15 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists