Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Beat Detroit? The Pistons Did It Themselves

I never thought I'd take ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan seriously again, after his embarrassing attempt to create a sensationalized story with Rasheed Wallace and Flip Saunders back in January. But the guy had it right when he wrote this sentence before Game 4 of the Pistons-Cavaliers series:

Mr. Big Shot is blowing his money.

And last night, Chauncey Billups blew the game for Detroit. That's an overly simplified way of explaining what happened in Game 4. But if LeBron James had to take crap after Games 1 and 2 for not making the plays expected of a superstar, then Billups deserves to be criticized for not being the Pistons' best player when they needed him the most.

He made three awful decisions late in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line. With just over one minute left, Billups left his feet with nowhere to go and dished off a panicked pass right to Drew Gooden. The play-by-play boxscore of the game described the play perfectly: "Chauncey Billups bad pass." He compounded the problem by immediately fouling Gooden, which put the Pistons in the penalty, giving the Cavs free throws on every foul thereafter.

But the three-pointer Billups attempted with 45 seconds left might have been an even worse play. I understand what he was thinking: Take a quick shot, so if it's missed, the Pistons can still get the ball at the end of the game. But he didn't have to take that shot. A leaning, twisting prayer of a shot, while desperately trying to draw a foul when no Cleveland defender was really near him. (Sasha Pavlovic didn't run into Billups; Billups tried to lean into Pavlovic.) Of course, it didn't go in. The Pistons still had a chance to tie the game after that, but it was essentially over after Billups threw up that shot.

Does Billups deserve the benefit of the doubt, given his past heroics for Detroit? Sure. But with that comes the weight of expectations, as well. Why come down so hard on him? Because he's expected to do better. Yet Billups has been outplayed by a rookie, one I hadn't even heard of before this series. (I'll admit, however, that I don't follow the NBA as closely as I used to. 15 years ago, I knew every player on every roster.)

Who is Daniel Gibson? Last night, he's the guy that kicked Chauncey Billups' ass. Okay, Billups outscored him by two points. But he needed almost three times as many shots to do it. One guy's expected to be the best player for his team. The other is a rookie who's just supposed to contribute to the cause.

But maybe it's unfair to come down so hard on Billups because there's plenty of blame that can be spread around. Okay, fine - Rasheed Wallace is an emotional player who often feeds off the perception that the referees are against him. But that technical foul he drew for throwing his headband was totally #@$%ing stupid. What did that accomplish? If you say he was trying to fire up himself and his teammates, then you're just highlighting how desperate he was at that point.

'Sheed just has to be smarter than that. And he's been through far too much not to know that by now. Remind me: Which team is the veteran, playoff-tested one?

And when Chris Webber signed with the Pistons, he may have given the Pistons a new offensive dimension with his passing skills, and helped out with rebounding and defense near the basket. But he is giving Detroit nothing right now. Two points in 20 minutes? Yes, part of that was because Antonio McDyess was playing so well. But he and Jason Maxiell are providing energy, effort, and low-post presence that Webber isn't able to match. He looks tired and slow, and on the verge of being done.

I still think the Pistons will win this series. But I agree that it's going to take seven games now. Detroit is still a better team than Cleveland. But they'd better start playing like it.

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