Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pistons: Sixth Straight Conference Finals-Schizophrenic or Not, the Pistons are for Real Now...I think

As a huge Pistons' fan, the last few years have taught me not to put trust in the team and get my hopes up. After multiple years of the team deciding not to try their hardest and overly relying on their "we've been here before attitude" I was learning that this group of guys might not ever win it all again. But even with that attitude, they, without fail, continued to reach the eastern conference finals simply due to the talent Joe Dumars assembled. But they would still lose early, either to the Heat or the Cavs' the last two years since they decided they were too good to try.
That looked to be the same in the first round against the 76'ers when the Pistons allowed themselve to get down 2-1 with a twenty point drubbing by the 6'ers. I thought it was the same disappointing team I'd watched for the past two playoffs. With no sense of urgency, the Pistons let themselves go down 2-1 by going into game 3 with the attitude that it was not indeed a must win situation. Chauncey Billups, the team leader, was the one proclaiming that sentiment. I honestly thought the Pistons' attitude was going to be their downfall again and I thought they would somehow get through the 6'ers series, but then fall to Orlando without much of a fight. They had taught me not to believe and I started to worry about what Joe Dumars might do in the offseasonBut, perhaps the troubles against the 6'ers finally turned the team's attitude around. As if exits to the Heat, and even more troubling, the Cavs' last year (after a 2-0 lead) weren't enough, it seems the Pistons needed the challenge of the Sixers to finally smack them awake. After tying the first round series at 2 a piece, the Pistons closed out the series with a couple of decisive wins and I was thinking "maybe they get it." But then again, I would tell myself, don't get your hopes up, let's wait and see if they decide to play against Orlando. Well, they did. Starting the series with a blowout and then another big win at home, the Pistons looked like they finally understood they needed to play like everyone else. Game 3's big loss can be explained by losing Chauncey Billups during the course of the game. The loss of Billups now seemed like the perfect excuse for the Pistons not to show up.
Detroit always has claimed to play better in the face of adversity (even after losing in the face of it the last two postseasons), this would be a perfect chance to prove they could still do it. They did, coming back from a 17 point 3rd quarter deficit to win in a nailbiter, without Chauncey, and then closing out the series at home, without Chauncey. The reason the Pistons were able to win without Billups is because they all actually played with a sense of urgency throughout the game. There was great defensive effort on nearly each possession which is something that was obviously lacking against the Cavs' and Heat. Maybe having a rookie point guard on the floor made the other starters avoid playing with a "sense of entitlement" and actually give a full effort (wow what a great idea). Now the Pistons get to nurse Chauncey back to health, for probably a week, while Cleveland and Boston duke it out. If they are able to maintain that sense of urgency when the laid back Billups returns, the Pistons might be unbeatable. Even though I might be biased as a fan, the lineup the Pistons have had since the year after they won the championship, is in my opinion the best lineup, on paper, in the NBA. Their only fierce rival is themselves. Maybe they have finally beaten that alter ego. I will say it, I think they have.
The Pistons are the team to beat, not only in the East, but in the NBA since they seem to have figured out how to play hard every game of a series. They cannot slip back into the attitude that "if we lose a game, we're fine." That is the only thing that can stop this team from getting a second ring. McDyess wants his first, the bench is finally young (always playing hard), and the four mainstays of Billups, Prince, Wallace, and Hamilton finally have enough critics to prove wrong. The Pistons play best in the face of adversity. The last two seasons they had been the favorites, not many doubters. Therefore, they had to beat themselves to the point that the doubters would appear. They are here, and with Billups back in the lineup, they either have to play the team that knocked them out last year, or the team that has stolen all the awards this season. The Pistons are a lock for the NBA finals, at least while their alter ego is banished.

Did you know that: Six straight Conference Finals appearances is something that is extremely rare. While a number of teams have reached five in a row, Detroit is only the 2nd team in NBA history to reach the conference finals 6 straight times since the NBA has had "conferences" instead of only "divisions" (1971-72). The only other team is the L.A. Lakers who reached 8 in a row from the 1981-82 season through the 88-89 season.