Tuesday, May 17, 2005


AUBURN HILLS -- Everyone will remember the punch and the jam.
But Chauncey Billup's finest moment in the Pistons 12-minutes of hell was the bump and the grind.
That is when the desperate Pacers attempted to post 6-foot-8 Stephen Jackson on the low block against Billups. But Billups moved his feet, held his ground and shoved Jackson into a bad position on the low block and ultimately into a turnover.
Moments later he ran for a lose ball and punched it half way down court to Rasheed Wallace who brought the house down with a jam off the free lance assist. It is the moment people will remember most during the Pistons victory march.
Not me. The Pistons won this game because they harassed the Pacers into hurried shots and frustration. Billups' little bump and grind with Jackson may have gone unnoticed by many, but it was one of the subtle little plays that helped propel the Pistons to an 86-67 victory over the Pacers at The Palace and a 3-2 lead in this best of seven Eastern Conference semifinal.
"We were all alert and ready and helping one another," Billups said. "When one guy got by, the next guy was rotating over and we were contesting shots. I thought it was a good effort on both ends of the court."
The Pistons turned into a band of brothers in the third quarter.
They were all on the same page and turned into a defensive rage. Every passing lane seemed to be covered and whenever a Pacer got into the paint they were met by men the size of Redwoods who swatted balls around like a summer volleyball game at the beach.
Pacers center Jermaine O'Neal tried to take the game over himself. But after six minutes of frustration in the third quarter all he had to show for his efforts was two missed shots, two turnovers, two personal fouls and a seat on the bench.
O'Neal is injured but to his credit he won't use his right shoulder injury as an excuse. He tried to play left handed against the Pistons. But when the Pistons are on their game you must be 100 percent mentally and physically ready to offset them.
The Pacers were not even close and fell under an avalanche of a 30-4 run.
"They are not a better team than us, " emotional forward Stephen Jackson fumed.
Oh yes they are. Despite two speed bumps we've always known the Pistons to be the better team. They simply had to show some respect to the Pacers who play with determination and desperation.
"I thought in the second and third quarters we defended as well as well as we have all year," Pistons Coach Larry Brown said.
Afterwards Pistons fans celebrated. They can see the end near.
However, the Pistons should still feel some shame that this series continues. They are clearly the superior team and teams that are serious about winning titles get rid of the bottom feeders quickly.
The Miami Heat is home resting. The Pistons are still flying, staying in tiny hotel rooms and getting ready for another game with the Pacers.
The good news is the Pacers appear to be emotionally spent. They might come out on fire Thursday, but how long can emotion last? It probably won't last long unless the Pistons once again come out flat and uninterested.
Jackson tried to light one last spark in his Pacers by challenging teammates to lay it all on the line Thursday.
"If anyone is not upset by this they should not even show up, " he said.
The Pacers will show up -- for a while. And then that final flicker of flames will dissolve and then it will be time to face the real Heat.


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