As the clock at The Q hit triple zeroes last night and the scoreboard read Cavaliers 79 Pistons 73, more than just the another Cavaliers home win was posted. The banging you could hear was the final nail in the coffin for the Detroit Pistons as we once knew them.
Arguably the Cavaliers biggest rival of the Lebron era, the Pistons/Cavaliers playoff series were always epic battles. For the team up north, the names (Chauncey, Rip, Sheed, Tayshawn, McDyess) and the results stayed the same for an unprecedented run of six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances under three different head coaches (Larry Brown, Rick Carlisle, Flip Saunders).
Back in November, the Cavs took an eight-game winning streak into The Palace of Auburn Hills and left battered and bruised with a 96-89 loss where they gave up 30 fourth quarter points. The newly acquired Allen Iverson torched the wine and gold off the dribble with 23 points, and Rasheed Wallace scored 10 of his 21 in the fourth quarter. At that point in the season, the Pistons had beaten the Lakers and the Cavs back to back, and the Cavs were 9-3, with losses to the three best teams they played – Boston, New Orleans, and Detroit.
My how things have changed since that early November evening. Mike Brown’s group sports the best record in the NBA at 61-13 and have already clinched the Central Division, which has been dominated by the Pistons since the turn of the century. Detroit, on the other hand, is having it’s worst season in a decade, sitting under .500 at 36-38 and looking more and more dysfunctional by the minute.
The dysfunction was set in motion on November 4th, when GM Joe Dumars decided to deal Chauncey Billups, the rock of the Pistons championship runs, to Denver for the enigma that is Iverson. At the time of the trade, I initially thought this would make the Pistons better. It would give the point guard slot over to second-year man and supposed breakout player Rodney Stuckey, and acquiring Iverson, a better pure scorer and quicker defender than Billups, would be the kick in the rear this team needed. Plus, since Iverson would be a free agent at season’s end, he’d be playing for a new deal. That is usually a recipe for a big year.
As a Cavaliers fan, I’m glad to say I was way off in my assessment. Iverson has never mixed well with this current group and has ruffled many feathers along the way by refusing to come off the bench. New coach Michael Curry has had his hands full with A.I. They lost eight straight games before Iverson went down with a back injury, missing 16 games. Without him, the Pistons won their first four games, including at Orlando and at Boston back to back. Iverson was reportedly nowhere to be found while nursing his injury.
Last night was his second game back where he was brought off the bench as the third guard behind Stuckey and Richard Hamilton. He played only 18 minutes, but played with that disinterested look to him. After the loss, Iverson let loose to the media. Check out some of these quotes:
“How many minutes did I play? It seemed way, way, way less than that. Eighteen minutes? Come on, man. I can play 18 minutes with my eyes closed and with a 100-pound truck on my back. It’s a bad feeling, man. I’m wondering what they rushed me back for? For that? It’s a bad time for me mentally.”
Pistons beat writer for the Detroit News, Chris McCoskey, lit Iverson up in his column today.
Rushed him back? He left the team Feb. 26. Hardly anybody saw him again until last week. He didn’t do one single basketball-related exercise for a month. So he comes back, clearly rusty, clearly not in game shape, and he complains about playing 18 minutes on the front end of a back-to-back.
Unbelievable. Then he has the audacity to follow-up his rant by saying he doesn’t want to vent, that he’s trying to stay positive and focus on the big picture. The statement loses credibility when it comes after he’s already vented.
Iverson keeps saying things like, “because of who I am,” and, “a person with my resume and all the things I’ve done.” The issue isn’t what he’s done in the past, it’s what he’s done as a Piston, and that has been not much.
The sooner he realizes that he’s not the same guy, that he’s 33 and out of shape, the better off he will be. He didn’t play horribly Tuesday, but he did what he’s done pretty much all year — make critical mistakes at critical times.
Rasheed Wallace’s act has worn dental floss-thin. Tayshawn Prince and Hamilton are still very nice players. Antonio McDyess is still a solid complimentary piece. But the clock has struck midnight on the Pistons as contenders. The Iverson trade has kicked that decline into high gear.
With that said, last night’s game was another classic Pistons/Cavaliers war that was low in scoring and high in drama. You had the Delonte West chuck of Hamilton, the Wallace technical after complaining to the officials (where have we heard this before), clutch late game performances by Lebron James and Anderson Varejao, and suffocating defense on both ends.
The Pistons currently sit in seventh place in the East, but are just two games ahead of eighth place Chicago in the loss column. If you injected truth serum into all 14 guys on the roster and asked then who they would rather play in the first round, Chicago or Detroit, 14 guys will tell you The Bulls. While I have no doubt the Cavaliers would get past Detroit, a series against a physical and tough rival would take more out of this team than a series with the finesse, athletic Bulls would.
In a short few weeks, we will find out.