An NBA blog from Newsday's Bobby Bonett
Flashback: The Pistons-Nets marathon
Day 26 of our 30-team NBA playoff flashback profiles the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons franchise has three NBA titles, and has 13 playoff appearances since the 1991-92 season.
Date: May 14, 2004
Situation: The No. 3 Detroit Pistons and the No. 2 New Jersey Nets are tied, 2-2, heading to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Context: After getting swept by the New Jersey Nets in the 2002-03 Eastern Conference finals, the Detroit Pistons opted to fire Rick Carlisle, despite back-to-back 50-win seasons, and hire veteran coach Larry Brown. Like the previous two seasons, the Pistons started the season off competitive, and at the trade deadline, were comfortably in playoff position, though not necessarily a championship favorite. Enter Rasheed Wallace. In what was viewed as one of the biggest trade deadline deals in NBA history, the Pistons acquired Wallace for what amounted to loose change and a draft pick. A gritty competitor who could score inside and outside, Wallace sparked the Pistons to a 17-6 finish to the season, and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. After beating up on the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, Detroit took on the Atlantic Division-champion Nets. The two teams split the first four games, with the Pistons winning both games in Detroit, and the Nets winning both games at Continental Airlines Arena. That set up Game 5 back at the Palace.
Recap: The first four games had little drama. Detroit won Games 1 and 2 by a combined 37 points, and the Nets bounced back by beating the Pistons by 18 and 15. That wasn’t the case in Game 5. The two teams played close throughout, with the Pistons taking a one-point lead at the half, the Nets then taking a one-point lead into the fourth. As the closing minutes approached, Detroit went cold. After taking a lead, Detroit missed nine of 10 shots. Jason Kidd first put the Nets up 85-84 with a coast-to-coast layup, then hit two free throws to make the lead three with 16 seconds left. The two teams exchanged a free throw each, making the lead 88-85 with seconds left. The Pistons only had time for a halfcourt heave; they turned to Chauncey Billups — who Lawrence Frank said after the game he wished he had fouled — who miraculously banked in a 40-footer to send the game to overtime. Neither team was able to get an edge in the first or second overtime, but in the third extra period, the Nets went on a roll. Behind Richard Jefferson and backup forward Brian Scalabrine, New Jersey outscored Detroit 16-9 in the final five minutes to steal the win. Detroit lost, 127-120, in triple-overtime.
Top players: Chauncey Billups finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, the lone Pistons starter not to foul out. Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, Corliss Williamson, and Mike James all also scored in double-figures. New Jersey was led by Richard Jefferson’s 31. Brian Scalabrine scored 17 points in 23 minutes, including 4-for-4 from three. The Nets shot 42-for-55 from the free throw line.
After the game: On the brink of elimination at the hands of the Nets for the second straight year, the Pistons bounced back with a road win in New Jersey, then crushed the Nets in Game 7, 90-69. After beating the No. 1 seed Pacers in six, Detroit got the Lakers in the Finals. In a surprisingly one-sided series, the Pistons’ defense suffocated the Lakers, holding Los Angeles to less than 90 points four times, and Detroit won in five for their first title since 1990. The Pistons were among the East’s elite for the next four seasons, winning at least 53 games each year. But they weren’t able to repeat as champions, losing in the Finals in 2005, then the conference finals in three straight seasons.
Check back tomorrow for the Spurs.
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