by Russ Bengtson
Chi-town. Game Six. Do or die time. Again.
The Bulls are coming off two straight wins, including their best game of the series, a blowout Game Five in Detroit. If the Bulls lose it’s summer vacation time, yet somehow it seems like the real pressure is on the Pistons (and especially Flip Saunders).
Mike Tirico and Hubie “Caesar” Brown in the house. (I’m not calling Hubie “Caesar” because of his haircut, rather because before he started coaching he was actually an emperor of Rome.)
Rip: “We just gotta come out from the beginning and play hard, play with a lot of energy.” As expected, he just says stuff like that, giving no credit to the Bulls. Predictable.
Ben Wallace’s hair is HUGE.
Sam Mitchell and Rick Carlisle both pick Detroit. Haters. I hope neither of them ever gets an NBA coaching job again. Greg Anthony picks the Pistons, too. At least my main man Timmy Legs (I just made that up) is rolling with the Bulls.
Hey, it’s highlights from ’88, ’89, ’90 and ’91. Which, except for the names on the front of the jerseys, have nothing to do with this series. OK, and the Pistons still play at the Palace. (And Dumars and Pax, I guess. Although I don’t think either of them will suit up tonight.)
OK. That’s it. I’ve officially HAD IT with the stupid Sonic commercials. As far as I know there isn’t a single Sonic in the NYC area, yet I’ve seen each of those deplorable commercials roughly 3,971 times each in the past couple of weeks. I hope Sonic goes out of business ASAP.
P.J. Brown—maligned for no good reason by one of those SI.com guys—starts the scoring off with a pair of free throws. That’s one on Rip. Rasheed evens things up with a score over P.J., and BG rips a three off a drive and kick from Kirk. Tayshaun hits a jumper, and Bulls lead 5-4. Make it 7-4, as Big Ben catches a quick dunk.
Luol blocks a Rip shot off glass that’s already hit glass. Goaltend. Hinrich gets blocked in the paint by Webber, and Rip rattles home a jumper. 8-7, Pistons.
Oh no, Ben Wallace was late again! Drama!
Rip again. 10-7, Detroit. And P.J hits a jumper. Contract year!
Rasheed Wallace for three. 13-9, Detroit. P.J. misses, Rasheed rebounds, and Webber is fouled underneath by Brown. He misses his first free throw, which means he’s yet to score in Chicago for the SERIES. He hits his next one, though. Luol is fouled on the other end by Billups, hits a pair.
Rip with a mean pull-up off the dribble over Ben Gordon. He’s got eight. And Deng comes back and does pretty much the same thing to Billups. Who comes back and misses a three, but Webber is there to put it back in. And P.J. Brown hits ANOTHER jumper. 18-15, Detroit.
Prince misses, Big Ben rebounds, and Little Ben bricks a pull-up three. Rasheed does the same, and P.J. misses a jumper. Rasheed does not. Time out, Chicago. 20-15 Detroit with 5:10 remaining in the first.
Once again, yeah yeah, the Pistons problems are “self-inflicted.” It’s not like they’re playing against another team or anything.
P.J. Brown, again. He’s on pace for 32. Billups hits a J. McDyess is in for Webber, who has a field goal in Chicago finally. And Brown is fouled underneath by McDyess. Both. He’s got 10 with four minutes plus to go in the first.
Hubie Brown finally suggests giving the Bulls defense some credit. Thank you Uncle Hubie.
Rasheed airballs a three off a couple of turnovers. Hinrich misses, the Pistons turn it over, and someone on the Bulls misses. Fast and furious right now—not conducive to taking notes. And the Pistons help that out a bit by getting called for a 24-second violation.
P.J. with a terrific bounce pass to Ben Wallace underneath for an easy dunk. Well played. Pistons turn it over, Gordon sails in for the layup, and the Bulls are back on top, 23-22.
Prince misses a three, Big Ben rebounds, and Gordon airballs an ill-advised three. Partially blocked, but still. And Prince puts one in over Brown, and 1. Enter Tyrus Thomas. Prince misses the free throw.
McDyess, from his usual spot at the elbow. Maybe a little further out. And Thomas lays a moving screen on Lindsey Hunter. Hamilton buries a TOUGH jumper at the buzzer, and it’s 28-23 Detroit after 1.
Hinrich. Quick three-point play. Hunter. Quick three-pointer.
Deng, mid-range. I believe he still doesn’t have a three in the postseason. Billups misses, Thomas rebounds—and travels. Rookie move. Thabo Sefolosha in the house.
Lindsey Hunter again. Drug test that man!
The Bulls turn it over, Hunter is on the run, and Tyrus Thomas blocks the hell out of him from behind—but gets him with the body. Foul. That’s two on Tyrus. He exits for Nocioni, who’s growing his goatee back in a hurry. Which is a good idea because he sucked without it. Hunter hits both—he has all the Piston points in the quarter, and more points than he’s scored the entire series.
Clock problems. Awesome.
The Pistons are playing tight D. Very tight. Hunter gets a bit too tight, and fouls Hinrich on the perimeter. Then Hinrich drives, and is fouled by Hunter again in deep—his third. Exit Lindsey. Kirk hits both.
Billups and Rasheed play a two-man post-perimeter game—with Sheed on the perimeter and Billups posting up. It doesn’t work.
Sheed jumps in the stands! Nothing much happens, though.
Hinrich neatly splits a double-team to get into the lane—and then kicks it back out to Sefolosha who bricks the hell out of a three. P.J. is fouled on the rebound, however, and hits a pair. He’s got 12. 35-32, Detroit with 7:52 to go.
Webber misses, Hinrich misses, Rip misses, Nocioni is fouled by Rasheed—who is slowly starting to go insane. More insane, anyway. Noc hits a pair, and it’s a one-point game.
Rasheed loses it on the shot, the Bulls get a four-on-one, and Deng is fouled by Billups taking it himself. Gotta give it up, as Hubie points out. Of course. Deng hits one of two, and we’re tied at 35.
Rasheed entry pass to Tayshaun—and Tay doesn’t notice it. Turnover. The Bulls turn it right back, and Billups is fouled by Hinrich. Both.
Noc shortarms a baseline jumper—of course—and Billups misses a three. Hinrich misses, the ball goes out of bounds off of Rasheed and P.J.—and is given back to the Bulls. Sheed is DEFINITELY getting a tech tonight.
Webber with a RIDICULOUS jump hook, and Kirk misses a three. Deng gets it back, and P.J. scores again.
Deng wets a jumper, and it’s tied up again at 39. Prince unties it, P.J. reties it (off three attempts and two offensive boards). Hubie: “I’m tellin’ ya, P.J.’s back in college!”
Couple Detroit bricks (punctuated by Sheed’s 10th board), and P.J. hits another jumper. He’s got 18 with two minutes to go in the half. Rip hits on the other end, and P.J. scores AGAIN. He’s got 20 in the first half, tying his all-time playoff high. Bulls by two. Hinrich misses a three on the break—he’s having a bad, bad shooting night. Sheed misses a three, Big Ben rebounds, and is fouled by Webber. To the line! Ben hits one of two, and the Bulls get the rebound. Things are getting loud.
Hinrich with a layup off the dribble, Rip misses at the buzzer, and the Bulls lead at the half, 48-43, outscoring the Pistons by 10 in the second quarter.
Missed the opening two minutes, apparently dominated by Detroit. It’s 9-1 Detroit in the opening three minutes. And Tayshaun hits a three—or a deep two—and the Pistons lead by six. Time out, Chicago.
Ben Gordon for three out of the time out. So necessary. And Sheed comes back with a two (that’s 14 and 10). Hinrich bad pass turnover, Billups fouled inside. To the line. Both. Gordon misses, Prince misses, Big Ben is fouled by Tayshaun in the paint. One of two. Detroit misses, gets their own, and Rip scores off the curl. Rip curl? Shaka, bra.
Tyrus Thomas earns a trip to the line. One of two.
Calling Chicago’s third-quarter offense “anemic” would be an insult to the iron-deficient. And of course Nocioni scores with a dunk straight down the middle.
Rip Hamilton. Again. He’s good. Deng misses everything, Prince rebounds, and the Pistons give it right back as McDyess can’t track down a long rebound. And Ben Gordon hits a jumper. It’s 63-58 Pistons with four minutes to go in the third.
Billups, three. 67-59 with 3:21. Nocioni gets hit by McDyess while shooting a three—but uindercuts him while falling. So Nocioni gets T’ed up, even though McDyess gets called for the foul. Weird occurrence. Billups hits the tech, Nocioni hits three free throws. Detroit by 6. And Hinrich fouls McDyess underneath. The Bulls are over the limit. Dyess hits both, and Deng follows with a jumper.
Hinrich fouls Billups—from behind, coming around a screen—on a three. That’s four on Kirk with 2:27 to go in the third. Billups hits ‘em all. Pistons by 9. Nocioni misses, but Deng gets the board and puts it back. Billups misses, Nocioni rebounds, and Gordon hits a three off a lot of ball movement—good setup by Deng. Back to four.
Prince misses, Thomas snatches the board, and Nocioni misses a corner three. Ugh. Hamilton misses on the other end, and Nocioni is called for a loose-ball foul on Maxiell. One of two. Gordon misses a three, and that’s it for the third. Pistons lead 74-69 heading into the fourth.
Too many second chances for Detroit with Ben Wallace on the bench.
Easy dunk for Prince. Man. Nice entry pass by Sheed. On the other end Thomas goes to the line, where he isn’t that hot. One of two. Big Ben is back.
Rasheed misses a three, McDyess gets the offensive board, and the Pistons eventually get called for a three-second violation. P.J. Brown can’t score, and Rasheed gets a sick dunk putback over Ben Gordon—but gets called for over-the-top. Seems legit. Hinrich pops a jumper (he’s three for 12) and it’s 77-72 Detroit with 8:19 to go. Rasheed puts in another one—but this time is called for a travel. He’s about to snap. Time out.
Gordon misses a three out of the time out, and Sheed is there for the rebound. McDyess misses from the corner, but Prince is there to get the rebound and dunk it home. Hinrich misses a three of his own, and the Pistons get it back. Hunter misses, it goes the other way, and Wallace swats Gordon. Billups misses, Deng rebounds, and P.J. Brown (who’s been invisible in the second half) travels.
Tayshaun with some crazy lefty jumphook that looks bad until it drops through the net. Pistons by nine, 81-72, under six. The Pistons look like the Pistons tonight. If that makes sense.
BG acts a bit to try and draw a foul instead of, you know, actually catching the ball. Turnover. Turnover back, but they just can’t get anything going. At all. Prince misses the jumphook, and Deng is called for an offensive foul as he runs over Prince.
Rasheed loose-ball foul, and there’s the T. It was inevitable. The Bulls need points any way they can get them. They get the one, but Deng misses on the ensuing possession—and fouls McDyess on the rebound.
Gordon misses high off glass, but McDyess fouls Big Ben on the rebound. To the line with 3:16 to go. Miss, miss. Rasheed hits a jumper from the lone, and the Pistons lead by 10 for the first time. Nocioni misses a three, and Prince hits another jump hook over Deng, and the Pistons are up 12 with 2:20 to go. This is probably over. Because the Bulls offense has been nonexistent (four points!) in the fourth.
And with that, Deng scores on a tough shot in the paint. And Tyrus Thomas fouls right away—non-shooting. Under two minutes. Rasheed misses a three from Prince, and McDyess knocks the rebound out of bounds. And Nocioni FINALLY hits a three. 85-78 with 1:24 to go.
Billups is stripped on the drive…and fouled by—somebody. Both. Detroit lead is back to nine with 1:08.
Deng hits from outside, too. Too little, too late? 87-80 Detroit with under a minute left.
The Pistons turn it over on the inbounds, five-second violation. And Tyrus Thomas, who played such great defense on the inbounds, throws it away trying to get it to Hinrich in the corner.
Thomas fouls Billups—who’s 10 of 10 from the line—to stop the clock. Both. Back to nine. Gordon hits a layup, and Hinrich fouls Billups again. Who hits both again. And Gordon hits a three RIGHT away—but Nocioni fouls Hamilton. Both. And Gordon throws it away with 30 seconds to go. Sefolosha fouls Rip, who hits two more. And Skiles pulls Gordon, Deng and Hinrich. There should be no more fouling.
And there isn’t. Final score, 95-85 Pistons. And Detroit moves on.
Oh yeah, after matching his playoff career high with 20 in the first half, P.J. Brown managed to add 0 more in the second. Damn 37-year olds.
Not much to say, really. The better team won. And once Chicago’s jumpers stopped falling (thanks in part to Detroit’s swarming defense), they were finished. It’s clear that they’ll never be an elite team without a low-post scoring threat.
But there aren’t many elite teams to begin with, and the Bulls are already a very good one. They just happened to run into a team that IS elite in the Pistons. I can’t help but think the Pistons are essentially guaranteed a spot in the Finals, because I don’t see the Cavs or Nets being able to beat them in a seven-game series.
The Bulls’s future is still bright—more on that later. And the Pistons’s future? Even brighter. The Eastern Conference Finals start Monday.
Respect to Detroit. I hope they go on to win it all.