Sunday night's game has caused me great joy and actually quite a bit of anger over the past two off days. Joy, because the Sixers snatched the home-court advantage right out from under the Pistons in dramatic fashion. Joy because the Sixers played the Pistons' type of ball game, on the Pistons' court, and closed them out in a tight fourth quarter after coming back from being down 15 points.
The anger comes in when you start seeing the excuses. It's funny, everyone from Detroit and even national media keep making excuses. I'm sure you've read about how the Pistons turned the ball over too much. Really? The Pistons had 12 turnovers, they averaged 11.1 on the season. Quite a stark contrast. Then we heard about how the Pistons missed free throws. OK, for the game, the Pistons were 18/23 from the line in game 1 (78.3%), on the season they averaged 18.4/24 (76.7%). The Pistons grabbed 43 rebounds in game 1, their season average was 41. The one number that was significantly lower than their season average was assists, 16 in game 1, 22.3 on the season.
Which is a nice transition into a couple of links. First, from Detroit News.com, read this article
and let me know if you come to the same conclusion I did. Basically, the Pistons are admitting they were out-coached. The players are saying it, the coach himself is saying it.
"They did a good job making us go to our counters (on offense)," coach
Flip Saunders said. "And we didn't read the counters maybe as quickly
as we could have and we missed some open opportunities. But their
aggressiveness took us out of our rhythm."
He's talking about Mo's decision to play Rasheed Wallace one-on-one, and the fact that he didn't realize running the entire offense through him was really stifling the flow of the Pistons. That makes the score Mo 1, Flip 0, in my book. Bob Salmi has an interesting take
over on NBA.com as well. One of his points, which deserves to be noted, is Mo's trust in his young players. This is a point a lot of Pistons' fans have made. When Lou Williams and Thad Young made mistakes, Mo didn't pull them from the game, he let them play. Flip didn't even give a couple of his young players the opportunity to make mistakes.
The Sixers won game one. The Pistons didn't hand it to them, they didn't really even play poorly. They were out-coached, and when all the money was on the line, the Sixers made the plays and the Pistons didn't. That's what playoff basketball is all about.
OK, that's enough about game 1, after the jump we'll dive into game 2.
OK, the Sixers "stole" game 1. No matter what happens tonight, the Sixers will go back to Philly with home-court advantage for the series in their back pocket. For me, the one thing they need to avoid tonight, even more than leaving three-point shooters wide open, is a sense of complacency. I know it seems crazy, but they have to maintain the same energy level and if the thought of "We're already ahead of the game," even enters their mind, they're cooked.
This is where Mo comes into play. In game one he probably coached his best game of the year, both strategically and emotionally. He had the Sixers ready to play, pulled all the right strings and believed in his young guys. In game two, he's going to have to keep the emotion up for 48 minutes and also be ready for a wrinkle. The story from the top of this post mentioned a zone defense. It's possible that Flip Saunders will go to a zone tonight, Andre Miller doesn't think so, and it doesn't seem to make much sense, but the Sixers need to be ready for it. Why doesn't it make sense? Well, the benefit of a zone is that it forces teams to hit shots from the outside. For the most part, the Pistons' man-to-man defense did a really good job of doing that in game one. In fact, zones tend to yield wide-open jumpers from the outside, the man-to-man the Pistons are capable of playing forced contested jumpers. Doesn't make sense.
If it does happen, Mo needs to get Reggie Evans in the game right away. The true weakness of the zone is defensive rebounding. In man-to-man, everyone is already in contact with the guy they're guarding, so it's easier to put a body on a man when a shot goes up and clean up the defensive glass. In a zone, defensive players are guarding an area and have to seek out an offensive player to box out. There are always gaps in there. Reggie Evans will own the offensive glass against a zone. Not to mention the fact, if you put Tayshaun Prince in a set spot in a zone, Iguodala can avoid him. Again, I don't think it's a good idea, which is why I'm pretty sure Flip will at least give it a shot.
The story of this game, and probably the story of the series, isn't really the Pistons defense or the Sixers offense. It's what happens at the other end of the court. On the season and through game 1 the Pistons have averaged only 86 points/game against the Sixers. If you believe what Flip says, they're going to ignore the one-on-one mismatch of Dalembert on Wallace and run their usual offense, with their usual shot distribution. That's a fine idea, but if the Sixers aren't going to double Wallace, which a lot of teams do, that means there are going to be less open opportunities for the other guys on the floor. This works in the Sixers' favor. If they aren't feeding the ball into the post to create mismatches I like the Sixers' chances one-on-one against the rest of the Pistons. Miller can keep Billups out of the lane, and if he isn't helping down on the post, he shouldn't be leaving him open for threes. Rip Hamilton is a mismatch against Willie Green, but he isn't a great driving threat, so Willie just needs to keep close enough to contest jumpers, and the Sixers need to continue to effectively switch the baseline screens he runs them through. Iguodala can handle Prince.
The decision not to double Wallace was made so the rest of the players would have a harder time getting their offensive game going. They sacrificed one area to strengthen the others. Now the Pistons are planning to attack the reinforced area of the defense. I think the Pistons may be underestimating the Sixers defense, but only time will tell.
There is one thing we need to keep a wary eye on, and that's penetration. The two things that created all the wide-open threes we saw rain down on the Sixers this season were doubles in the post and a guard breakind down the D and getting to the hole. Miller did an outstanding job of keeping Billups on the perimeter in game 1, he needs to repeat that effort.
Another area which can actually be improved upon is the running game. The Sixers did a great job of getting out on the break in game 1, especially in the first half, but they left points on the table with a couple of missed dunks and errant passes. They need to convert a high percentage of their running opportunities because odds are they won't be able to create as many tonight.
My final point is more of a plea to Andre Iguodala. Tayshaun Prince will be on him. He'll be all over him. While I love the complete game he turned in on Sunday, I think his approach needs to be different. He needs to work from the inside out. In game 1 he started off trying to hit jumpers, when he realized they weren't dropping he stopped shooting and started driving. He needs to do the opposite tonight. I want to see him going to the hole early on. If the Pistons converge, he needs to create easy scoring opportunities for the bigs in the lane or the guards on the perimeter, but he needs to be aggressive early. Once he puts the drive front and center in Prince's mind, he's going to have to slack off, meaning later in the game if the jumper is falling he'll have more room to take it.
Set a reminder for the live blog below, it'll launch about a half hour before tip. There's no reason the Sixers can't win tonight. There's no reason they should settle for a righting of the ship by the Pistons, but no matter what the outcome, it's essential the Sixers play 48 minutes of high energy, high emotion basketball. There can be no letdown in that category.
I'll leave you with a quote from Chauncey Billups which I think illustrates that the Pistons are still taking the Sixers lightly: "I hope this doesn't happen, but if we did go down 0-2, I still feel like we could win the series."