Decade’s Best: Playoff Block
Tayshaun runs down Reggie.
by Graham Flashner
There are three necessary components to blocking a shot. Anticipation: squaring yourself to the shooter; getting your feet set to time the shot’s release. Timing: not over-committing on a fake. Feet planted on the ground until the shot goes up. Positioning: Going straight up with your arms so your body doesn’t cause a foul, and making sure your hand gets all ball. And finally, there’s a fourth intangible that can’t be taught: the ferocity of will and determination to stop a shot at all costs. No way is he getting that shot off. Not in my face. Not in my house.
Back in 2004, before rule changes tilted the game back in favor of free-wheeling offense, the Detroit Pistons ruled with a suffocating defense, the product of a long, athletic unit unusually dedicated to helping each other deny opponents the inside. Scoring 100 against these guys was out of the question. Reaching 90 was a moral victory. One of the things they excelled at better than anybody was the blocked shot.
In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, the Pistons rejected an incredible 19 shots. Some teams don’t block 19 shots in an entire season. Ben Wallace, booed heavily for guaranteeing a Game 2 victory after the Pacers won the opener at home, had 8 of those blocks, as he, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince harassed Pacers shooters all night. (The Pacers, to their credit, blocked seven shots of their own, though it barely went noticed).
Even so, as intimidating as Detroit’s D was, the game was still up for grabs in the final minute, with the Pistons in danger of going home 0-2.
That is, until their 19th block – the greatest playoff block of the decade.
The Pistons led 69-67. As Chauncey Billups drove the lane, the Pacers’ Jamaal Tinsley poked the ball away. Jeff Foster tossed an outlet pass to Reggie Miller, racing ahead of the field for what surely looked like a game-tying layup.
But one Piston hadn’t given up on the play. Sprinting towards Miller from the other side of the court was Prince, he of the long arms with the pterodactyl wingspan.
“I saw him in my rearview mirror,” Miller said later. “In hindsight, I should have dunked it, but I thought I had a few steps on him.”
Rip Hamilton recalled, “I said to myself: ‘Reggie better dunk it, because if he doesn’t dunk it Tay is going to get it.’”
Miller didn’t dunk it. He seemed to slow up a second before going up with his right hand to lay the ball off the glass. That hesitation gave Prince, seemingly swooping in from half-court, all the time he needed. At the precise moment the ball went up, Prince hit the apex of his leap, swatting the ball away with his outstretched left hand, his momentum carrying him three rows up in the courtside seats. Miller threw his hands up in frustration. What makes the block even more spectacular is that Prince kept the ball in play, giving Hamilton enough time to grab it at the end line. He made two free throws to ice the game and tie the series, which the Pistons eventually won in six, on their way to winning the NBA championship.
The block became one of the NBA’s 60 Greatest Playoff Moments, and remains the ultimate defensive play by one of the game’s premier stoppers.
For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.