The Detroit Pistons were in a funk.
They had been extended to seven games by an overmatched Cavaliers team, lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Miami Heat after falling behind 11-0 and gone six consecutive games without scoring more than 86 points. Moreover, two of their big guns – Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace – were stuck in a rut.
Prince and Hamilton each took turns carrying Detroit in Thursday's series-tying 92-88 victory over Miami. Hamilton poured in 22 points, including 20 in the first half when he came to his teammates' rescue.
The Heat threatened to close the gap in the second quarter when the Pistons fell into a 2-for-14 shooting slump, but Hamilton took over with an array of jump shots, layups and free throws to keep Detroit's lead a comfortable one. His signature movement without the ball gave some much-needed continuity to the Pistons' offense, which had grown stagnant in recent games.
Prince, meanwhile, played his usual quietly efficient game and came up big when Miami again rallied in the second half. He scored a career playoff-high 24 points and grabbed 11 boards, including six at the offensive end, many of which ended up in timely putbacks to thwart Heat runs.
Prince's play has been the one constant in an otherwise inconsistent postseason for Detroit. He and Hamilton will need to continue their strong play in Miami if the Pistons hope to recapture home-court advantage.
KEY TO THE GAME
Ben Wallace – He came into Game 2 averaging just 4.2 points in 13 playoff games. Sure, scoring is not his thing, but it's critical for Wallace to get at least a few baskets – particularly early – because a little offense seems to drive the rest of his game. On Thursday, Wallace scored a couple of fast-break hoops in the first quarter by running the floor, and his energy went up dramatically. The All-Star center proceeded to hit the boards, battle Shaquille O'Neal in the post (he drew three offensive fouls on Shaq in the third quarter) and lead his team to a vintage Detroit defensive effort. The Pistons held Miami to just 12 first-quarter points, setting the tone early for a lockdown Detroit win. Wallace finished with nine points on 4-for-4 shooting and 12 rebounds.
ADJUSTMENT OF THE NIGHT
Flip Saunders decided to send multiple defenders at Dwyane Wade, and seeing such different styles may have confused the young Heat star. Wade was guarded at various times by Prince, Lindsey Hunter, Carlos Delfino, Hamilton and Billups. Each was able to give Wade a different look – for example, Hunter with his quickness and Delfino with his length – and he never got into a groove. Wade still dazzled at times, scoring 32 points on 11-for-20 shooting, but he was thrown off his rhythm just enough to keep him from dominating. He committed nine turnovers, and his team never got into an offensive groove until the last minute when a desperate rally fell short.
SEQUENCE OF THE NIGHT
With just a couple of minutes remaining in the second quarter, Miami cut the Detroit lead to four points and threatened to ruin what was a fine first-half effort by the Pistons. Antoine Walker broke free for a long pass from O'Neal that should have resulted in a layup, but Walker fumbled the ball out of bounds. Detroit then made a push, scoring the final seven points in the quarter to take an 11-point halftime lead. The Pistons then controlled the second half and withstood a furious last-minute Miami rally.
VIEWERS GUIDE FOR FRIDAY
Game 2: Phoenix Suns at Dallas Mavericks – With Raja Bell out due to a calf injury, the Suns will start Leandro Barbosa in his place as they try to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. Remember, Phoenix played a brilliant game in L.A. against the Lakers without Bell, so it is capable of winning without him. Eddie House, whose confidence received a boost in Game 1 by scoring six points in eight minutes, will most likely see more action.
For Dallas, the question is how to play the high screen and roll with Steve Nash and Boris Diaw. The Mavericks switched the play, leaving a smaller defender on Diaw, and with Dallas help defenders on orders not to leave three-point shooters to double team, he went to work in the post all night. My guess is that Avery Johnson won't be focused so much on Diaw's 34 points but on the 32 fast-break points Phoenix scored in the game. The Mavs have to get back defensively and not give up so many easy baskets. Like every team that plays the Suns in the first game of a series, they were shocked by Phoenix's speed out of the gate and were beaten by numerous passes right over the top of their defense – even after made baskets by Dallas. Johnson will have his team more prepared to cut off the easy points, and if that happens, 34 points from Diaw won't be enough to beat the Mavericks.