By TADOne or… Tim Darga!

(Sam here. Is there anything better than “unmasking” a commenter so you can see their real name? He asked for it, so I present to you Tim Darga, whom you know as TADOne. These are his game notes he sent me from Game 4 of the Pistons-Magic, the rare 2008 playoffs road victory. They remind me of something else. Anyways, it’s all you Tim…)
It’s 4 pm on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, and the overcast sky is threatening rain. The weather appears like the perfect metaphor, because I just found out Chauncey Billups will not be playing in today’s game 4. The Pistons strength coach Arnie Kander and Billups have basically lived together since Wednesday’s game 3, when Billups did some splits that made Mary Lou Retton blush with pride, doing around-the-clock treatment on Billups hamstring to try and get Chauncey well enough to play. “I’m actually spending more time with him than my wife,” joked Billups, “bottom line, I’m just not ready, man.” Pistons rookie Rodney Stuckey will start in place of Billups, with both Juan Dixon and Lindsey Hunter being activated for today’s game for backcourt depth.

Even though Billups absence is by far the biggest obstacle facing the Pistons for today’s game, it is not the only one. The Pistons have other wrinkles that need to be ironed out, like finding a way to disrupt the Magic’s 3-point onslaught, slowing Rashard Lewis, and getting more production from their big men.

I believe in having the same routine after a Pistons win, as not to jinx any good momentum. After losses, I do the exact opposite, and will go and watch the game somewhere else or with friends. After The Magic’s game 3 blowout of Detroit, I am watching the game from my boys house. Despite the crappy weather, my friends are barbecuing outside today: cooking steak, burgers, and hot dogs on the grill and drinking some cold brew. The music is bumping in the background, and Main Source’s classic song “Live at the BBQ” comes on the radio. Quite fitting and I am steady bobbing my head as I type. I am feeling some good karma.

Pregame: Mike Wilbon is talking about how the Pistons are not panicking, that they are playing to take the series back to Detroit and having Chauncey healthy for game five. Meanwhile, Billups looks like he has taken some fashion cues from LeBron James and Gilbert Arenas, wearing the oddly popular ‘Civil War’ jacket (shout out to Russ!).

1st Q:

Antonio McDyess is starting his first game in the series, relegating Maxiell back to his normal 6th-man role. This means that Wallace will start out defensively on Dwight, with McDyess serving as a ‘tag-team’ defensive partner on him. Rodney Stuckey is starting in place of Billups, and he does not look the least bit nervous. I take this as a positive sign.

Turkoglu scores the first point of the game by connecting on one of two free throws. Rip Hamilton gets Detroit on the scoreboard on a goaltend by Howard, who is active early. Dice connects on his first shot of the game, while Jameer Nelson sinks one free throw and clanks the second. The Pistons look comfortable from the outset.

Dwight Howard is doing a bit of everything right from the start with a couple of blocks, an early basket, and some rebounds. Tiger Woods is in the house, and he looks as though he has aged 10 years since The Masters tournament. Stuckey comes out looking to be aggressive, and is taking it hard to the basket. The rookie is poised.

Detroit’s game plan early on appears to be having the guards aggressively take it to the rim and attack Orlando inside. Rasheed gets his 1st basket on an offensive put-back. Orlando is trying to get Dwight involved early and often, but Howard rushes and misses a few close shots. Detroit has 4 turnovers, and the Magic have an 18-13 lead going into the 1st commercial break. The early turnovers show exactly how much Billups is missed.

They replay Howard’s highlights from the dunk contest. I’m still impressed. Rashard Lewis has had consecutive possessions where he has taken the ball hard to the basket and gotten easy layups. The Pistons defense is a step slow, and the Magic have a 10 point lead. A couple of better defensive sequences for Detroit and fastbreak baskets by Hamilton get Detroit within six going into a timeout. I reload with another brew while Stan Van Jeremy waxes poetic on Howard’s growth as a player.

Rodney Stuckey gets his 2nd foul on a reach-in and Lindsey Hunter enters the game, seeing his first action in the postseason. The Pistons are ice cold from outside, and Orlando goes ahead by 10. An amazing Prince block while chasing down Mo Evans from behind on a break away dunk seems to give Detroit some life, and they go on a mini-run to close the quarter. At the end of the 1st quarter, the Magic lead 27-21. Flip Saunders shoos the cameraman away from the Detroit huddle as we go to a commercial. The heat is on Flip to get Detroit back to the finals, and he seems to be feeling it some.

2nd Q:

Maxiell comes in for Sheed, and Hunter stays in. Detroit gets two quick steals and close within 2. Detroit is on a 15-2 run from the end of the 1st quarter into early in the 2nd, being led by Prince and Hamilton, and forces Orlando into a timeout. Prince will be an All Star next year, count on it. The brew is going down a bit smoother now.

Detroit and Orlando start trading baskets until Orlando’s secret weapon, Marcin Gortat, gets two straight baskets. Somewhere, Chad Ford is feeling himself. Wallace gets a cheap foul and in his usual fashion he gives the ref “The Business”. For whatever reason, Flip puts Stuckey back into the game, and Rodney picks up his 3rd foul. In my mind, I’m saying some very unsavory things about Flip Saunders and his family, while outwardly I chug my brew.

With 3 minutes left, Orlando is up 8. Turkoglu is quietly playing up to his MIP status, while Rasheed has been eerily quiet today. Rip Hamilton’s 16 points is keeping Detroit in the game. The absence of Billups is glaring as Detroit has turned the ball over 3 straight times, and Orlando races out to an 11 point halftime lead, 55-44. Detroit needs to make adjustments to slow Orlando’s pace, but that is not Flip Saunders forte. I decide to get up and move around to change the bad karma Detroit has. Time for another brew and a Bubba burger, the best around.

3rd Q:

Orlando looks very confident coming out of the locker room, while Detroit needs to get Rasheed involved. Flip must have heard me, because Sheed starts the half with a baseline jumper. Unfortunately, Detroit still has not figured out the art of defense, and Orlando is 7-10 from 3 point range so far. Detroit is being straight outhustled and need to find some energy quick. Orlando quickly goes up by 15.

As if being able to telepathically heed my advice, Detroit goes on a 15-0 run, led by some stingy defensive effort. The Pistons are back to typical Dee-troit basketball, contesting shots and spreading the wealth on offense, getting contributions from all 5 players on the court. Orlando has not scored in almost 7 minutes and Detroit has some life in their legs. The Amway Arena crowd is getting restless.

Nelson ends the Detroit run with a layup, before Lindsey Hunter drains his 2nd 3-pointer in the last 3 possessions for Detroit. Unsung hero? After trailing by 11 at the half, Detroit has taken back momentum and dead-locked the score at 70 going into the 4th quarter. Orlando is playing tight and looking nervous, while Detroit has been here before. The sun is finally out and it is time for another cold brew.

4th Q:

Detroit carries momentum into the 4th and are playing suffocating defense, while Rasheed seems to finally have awakened with a steal and a basket. An early 4-0 run forces the Magic to take a timeout. Dwight Howard has not scored a field goal since the 7:03 mark of the 1st quarter, and you can clearly see the frustration on his face.

Howard and McDyess get tangled up and McDyess tackles Howard as he is falling to the floor, and Matt Millen immediately calls Antonio’s agent to offer a contract to play middle linebacker for the Detroit Lions. Both players get techs. Howard is completely frustrated right now, while the Magic as a team only have 19 second-half points. The Pistons are up 80-74 with 6:26 left in the game, and Van Gundy takes a timeout to get his young squad focused.

Things are getting chippy in the game as Hamilton and Lewis join in on the theatrics and get tangled up, spewing some words to each other that make me blush. The Pistons experience is showing as Orlando is forcing shots and Detroit is getting all the hustle plays going their way. At this point, Hedo Turkoglu remembers he is the MIP of the league, scoring six straight points and Orlando goes back in front by one. Another friend has come thru the BBQ, and I have decided he is cursing my team. I give him a dirty look and he leaves the room. I’m not the nicest person to be around at these times. I chug on my brew and decide to pace around the room to change up the vibe.

Detroit is 12-12 at the free throw line today, and Rip Hamilton has a huge 30 points. Turkoglu has scored the last 10 Magic points. Just to prove these two teams clearly are not liking each other right now, Dooling and Hamilton get tangled up, and Dooling picks up a technical at a critical juncture. He argues the call while Hamilton misses the technical free throw, the Pistons first miss at the line today. Hamilton then makes up for it by hitting the two free throws from the foul call. Detroit’s experience in this situation is evident.

It’s crunch time and the Magic are showing their inexperience, as Nelson misses one of two free throws. They’re clinging to a fragile one-point lead with less than a minute left in the game. The Pistons call for an unfruitful Rasheed Wallace iso, but Antonio McDyess out hustles two other Orlando players for a HUGE offensive rebound. The shot clock resets and the veteran Detroit team milks the clock. The ball touches all five players’ hands before Tayshaun Prince ends up with the ball, and he patiently waits for a pick and gets into the lane for a running left-handed floater, the biggest shot of his career.

With Detroit up by one with eight seconds left, Ron Van Gundy draws up an iso play for Hedo Turkoglu, who is covered by Prince at the top of the key. Hedo holds the ball for about five seconds before making his move, and charges into the lane, knocking down a stationary Jason Maxiell, but no charge is called. Turkoglu’s shot is disrupted and he misses the layup. The clock goes to all zeroes as Detroit grabs the rebound. Joey Crawford blows his whistle as the Pistons celebrate, causing a brief moment of confusion. It appears as though he is considering calling a foul on Orlando on the rebound, and after a brief discussion, decides against it and calls the game over. I quietly pump my fist in celebration.

Analysis:

Detroit has clearly proved their mettle, and take a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Motown. They are a confident bunch after proving the doubters wrong who said they couldn’t win without their lead man in Billups. Meanwhile, Orlando clearly has to be disappointed in a game in which they let a 15 point second half lead get away and couldn’t hold serve on their homecourt, a game they desperately needed. Van Gundy needs to get young Dwight Howard to quickly forget his abysmal eight point performance and move past it before game five. The Magic need their big man back to his 20/20 form if they stand any chance of getting this series back to Orlando.

I turn the music back up, grab a celebratory brew, and quietly bask in the Pistons victory. I have a full stomach and have a nice beer buzz going on. I bob my head to the music in the CD player, the new Roots album. I will have a permanent smile on my face until Tuesday.