Friday, May 25, 2007

Maxiell, Rasheed Lead Pistons Past Cavs

It certainly wasn't pretty, but the Detroit Pistons eked out another victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, defeating then 79-76 to go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Detroit once again overcame the struggles of several of their regular contributors and a large second-half deficit in a victory that felt eerily similar to their Game 1 triumph. Rasheed Wallace hit a baseline fadeaway over LeBron James (after Anderson Varejao flopped to the ground trying to draw an offensive foul on Sheed) to give Detroit a 77-76 lead with 24.3 seconds left. LeBron then missed a bank shot from the lane with seven seconds left, and both Larry Hughes and Varejao missed follow-up attempts before the Pistons could control the ball and ice the game at the line with one second left. James and Cavs coach Mike Brown were livid over the officials' decision not to call a foul on Rip Hamilton during the play, but replays showed that the play was relatively clean.

Rasheed led the Pistons with 16 points (including 10 in the fourth quarter) on 7-10 shooting and 11 rebounds. Jason Maxiell provided a huge spark off the bench, scoring 15 points, pulling down 6 boards and blocking 2 shots in only 22 minutes of playing time. After those two, it was tough to find a Piston who played a decent game on both ends of the court. Tayshaun Prince, while holding LeBron to only 19 points on the defensive end, was 0-8 and scored only 1 point as his shooting struggles continued. Chris Webber was aggressive on the offensive end, and was able to create a lot of decent looks for himself and his teammates, but only shot 4-13 from the field while finishing with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Rip Hamilton had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night, going 5-14 and finishing with 13 points. Chauncey Billups didn't look for his shot much, going 4-7 for 13 points, and turned the ball over 5 times. Antonio McDyess, after taking an early elbow from Zydrunas Ilgauskas that temporarily sidelined him (and paved the way for Maxiell to get in the game), scored only 4 points.

With most of the team struggling on the offensive end, Detroit delivered with suffocating defense in the second half. After falling behind 50-38 at halftime, the Pistons allowed only 26 second-half points to the Cavaliers, who had scored 34 in the second quarter alone. Detroit forced 15 turnovers and held Cleveland to 40% shooting. Most importantly, Detroit stymied the Cavs' young superstar when it mattered most, as Rip Hamilton locked down James and forced him into a tough, contested shot with the game on the line.

Detroit once again pulled out a victory late in a game in which they struggled for long stretches, and Cleveland has to feel like they missed a couple golden opportunities to go home with at least a split series. It was certainly not comforting, as a Pistons fan, to see both games hanging in the balance with Cleveland in possession, but some comfort can come from the fact that Detroit has a 2-0 lead without playing close to their potential. Hopefully, these two tight games will motivate Detroit to go all out and try to close the series out in Cleveland. Game 3 in Sunday night at 8:30.

Cue obligatory Jason Maxiell dunk highlight:

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Red Wings Facing Elimination

I am too indescribably frustrated to really provide a proper recap of this game. Detroit completely dominated Anaheim for the better part of three periods, as well as controlling much of the overtime period. Detroit missed several chances to expand their 1-0 lead before the final minute of the game (Holmstrom's rebound chance that slid completely through the crease and Lidstrom's hit post come to mind). Instead of having a decent cushion before Anaheim's final desperate attempt to tie the game, any strange bounce of the puck could have tied the game. Unfortunately, that strange bounce occurred. Scott Niedermayer's shot from the slot, which looked initially harmless, hit Niklas Lidstrom's outstretched stick and fluttered over the glove of Dominik Hasek, tying the game with 47.3 seconds left in regulation.

Andreas Lilja, who had scored Detroit's only goal in the second period, went from potential hero to goat 11:57 into the overtime period. While controlling the puck behind the Red Wing net, Lilja skated with it out in front of the goal while being hounded by Teemu Selanne. Duck forward Andy McDonald, who had just come off the bench, stepped up and forced Lilja to try to play the puck out of the zone. Lilja tried to pass the puck back across his body, and completely fanned on the attempt. Selanne took the puck, deked Hasek to the ground, and wristed the winner into the top shelf.

This was an awful game to lose, and obviously puts a lot of pressure on Detroit, who is now down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series going into Game 6 in Anaheim. However, if there is anything to take out of the game, it is that Detroit completely dominated and should have won. While most television analysts and sports columnists are drooling over the tremendous play of Duck goalie J.S. Giguere, I feel Detroit had a decent amount of chances around the net that easily could have been goals. Giguere played great, but Detroit had a few chances to beat him that they didn't capitalize on. Hopefully, with elimination looming, Detroit will bury those chances in Game 6 (and hopefully Game 7 as well).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Andrew Miller Watch: A Damn Good Start

After putting up solid numbers in the minor leagues this season (2.92 ERA, 35 K in 49.1 IP), Andrew Miller was called up by the Tigers to start in place of the injured Jeremy Bonderman. Miller showed why he was sixth overall draft pick in 2006, pitching six scoreless innings and getting the win in the Tigers' 14-4 shellacking of the St. Louis Cardinals. Miller rode his mid-90s fastball and sweeping slider while holding the Cards to 4 hits. He did walk 3 batters, but 2 of these were situational walks that shouldn't be of concern to the Tigers. Miller also struck out 2 batters.

Overshadowing Miller's performance was the offensive outburst of the Tigers. Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez set the tone early, with
each getting a home off Braden Looper by the third inning. After jumping out to a 5-0 lead by the fourth inning, the Tigers exploded for nine runs in the fifth. Detroit had eight hits and two walks in the inning while chasing Looper and reliever Kelvin Jimenez, who allowed seven runs while recording only one out. Every Tigers starter except Curtis Granderson reached base at least twice in the game, and every Tiger except Pudge Rodriguez scored a run in the rout. Magglio Ordonez (3-4, RBI, 3 runs, HR), Gary Sheffield (2-5, 3 RBI, HR), and Sean Casey (4-5, 2 RBI) led the way for the Tigers, who stayed within one game of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central standing.

The only disappointing aspect of the game was the performance of Jason Grilli, whose struggles out of the bullpen continued. Grilli allowed three runs in two innings pitched, including making a throwing error in the eighth (these always seem to happen against the Cardinals) that led to a run for St. Louis. Grilli's ERA is now an unsightly 7.36, and the Tigers are still looking for some consistency out of their Zumaya-less bullpen.

Overall, this was a great game for the Tigers. Although Jim Leyland already stated before the game that Miller would be back in the minors after this start, it was great to see how the kid could play when thrown into a starting role. Look for Miller to be back up in the majors later in the season, as he certainly didn't disappoint in his first major league start. He certainly wasn't lacking run support either, even though he didn't seem to need any. Hopefully the Tigers can continue their offensive tear in tonight's game against the Cardinals. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bulls (Finally) Closed Out

Most people (including myself) predicted a long, hard-fought series between the Bulls and Pistons. I don't think anyone expected it to be the roller-coaster ride that it was, with the Pistons dominating the first three games, Chicago storming back and easily taking the next two, and Detroit finally eliminating the Bulls in Game 6. The 95-85 Detroit victory was classic Piston basketball, as Detroit controlled the second half thanks to suffocating defense and clutch free throw shooting down the stretch. Chicago managed only 16 points in the fourth quarter, while the Pistons shot 10-10 from the line in the final 1:07 to ice the game.

Detroit once again featured a balanced scoring attack, with Rip Hamilton leading the way with 23 points on 9-18 shooting. Chauncey Billups overcame a rough shooting night (3-12 from the field) by going 14-14 from the free throw line, and finished with 21 points. Tayshaun Prince added 17, including 8 critical fourth quarter points, while also pulling down 9 rebounds. Sheed, when not (often justifiably) blowing up over the officiating, scored 16 and added 10 boards.

On the Chicago side, P.J. Brown led the scoring charge with 20 points, all in the first half. I'm as stunned as you are. Thankfully, the world righted itself in the second half, as Brown went scoreless and the Pistons pulled away from the Bulls. Other than allowing Brown to turn into Dwight Howard for 20 minutes, the Pistons did a great job limiting the Bulls' scorers. Luol Deng managed only 17 points thanks to a strong defensive effort by Tayshaun. Ben Gordon scored 19, but was only 7-18 from the field. Kirk Heinrich was rendered completely ineffective, scoring 11 on only 3-13 shooting. Heinrich did manage 11 assists, but 7 came in the first half and he played progressively worse as the game went on.

The Bulls' decision to spend $60 million on Ben Wallace continues to look like one they will come to regret. Wallace managed only 6 points and 7 rebounds, and went 2-8 from the line. He sported the worst +/- of any player on the court last night, going -17 in only 29 minutes of action. Maybe it isn't such a good idea to pour so much money into a player who can only contribute on one end of the floor, especially when your team doesn't have an established post presence. Just a thought. (For the record, I still love Ben for his contribution to the title team, and I really don't blame him for leaving for Chicago. This isn't a personal attack, I just don't think he fits with that team at all.)

I must say, there was one aspect of this series (and the rest of the NBA Playoffs) that bothered me almost as much as the Pistons' lack of efforts in Games 4 and 5. The rampant flopping that is becoming more and more widespread is threatening to turn the sport into soccer on wood. I hate to complain about anything right after winning a series, but I'm certainly not the only one who thinks this is becoming a huge problem:
The single most disgusting NBA development of the past few years? The flopping. Slowly, regretfully, inexplicably, the sport is morphing into soccer -- as exemplified by Kirilenko's swan dive near the end of Tuesday's Jazz-Warriors game that fouled out Matt Barnes, or Kirk Hinrich's perfectly designed flopparoo to draw Chauncey Billups' fourth foul in Detroit Tuesday.
Either Kirk Heinrich has the lower-body strength of Tiny Tim, or he was intentionally dive-bombing the hardwood any time Chauncey tried to back him down. Not only is this trend shredding the NBA of much of its dignity, it's also killing the art of the post up. If a player doesn't fade away or forgo playing the post entirely, odds are his defender is going to end up on his butt pleading the officials for a foul call. Chauncey didn't post up Heinrich as much as he should have during the series, mostly because he was afraid of getting in foul trouble. This took away what was Chauncey's most effective weapon against smaller guards, and he said as much during an interview with ESPN that was broadcast during the game yesterday. Is there really much difference between this:

and this?:

All I know is that both have no place in the world of sport.

Well, enough with the ranting. It was great to see the Pistons play as well as everybody knows they can play, and now Detroit waits for the winner of the Cleveland/New Jersey series (Cavs lead 3-2) while they get some well-deserved rest.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Good, The Bad, and the Tigers

I guess this is just going to be a massive three-sport combination post recapping last night. Never before have I been so discouraged and angered by one playoff team while simultaneously encouraged and uplifted by another. I'm pretty sure my emotions ran the entire gamut featured in the poster to the left. Anyways, last nights final scores were as follows:

-Bulls 108 - Pistons 92
-Red Wings 5 - Ducks 0
-Tigers 7 - Red Sox 2

The Pistons game was so thoroughly frustrating that I refused to watch the fourth quarter. As a general rule, I stop watching a game when I feel I care much more than the team I'm rooting for does. To say Detroit gave a dismal effort would be a disservice to the word 'dismal'. Chicago shot 72% in the first half. Seventy-fuckin'-two. They then proceeded to 57% in the third quarter en route to building a 21-point lead entering the fourth. The 16-point final margin doesn't do justice to the savage ass-beating Chicago gave Detroit last night. Jason Maxiell was the only guy who looked like he cared whatsoever about the outcome, and he only played fifteen minutes, during which Detroit was +11. He was one of only three Pistons to finish with a positive +/-, and the other two were Lindsey Hunter (???) and Nazr Mohammed (garbage time). Further analysis of this game may cause my head to explode, so I'm just going to move on to the other action from last night.

The Red Wings absolutely dominated the Anaheim Ducks behind strong efforts from, well, everyone. Dominik Hasek was as stellar as ever in shutting out the Ducks. Tomas Holmstrom continued to dominate the front of the net, putting in two goals and adding an assist in the third. Mike Babcock made tremendous line adjustments before the game, throwing out Holmstrom/Datsyuk/Filppula and the all-Swede Samuelsson/Zetterburg/Franzen line as his top two offensive units. Both units meshed perfectly and produced scoring plays. In fact, each line produced a goal where one forward was assisted by the other two. That's chemistry, folks.

The story of the game, however, was the nasty tag team hit on Tomas Holmstrom by Rob Niedermayer and Chris Pronger. If you haven't seen the hit yet, here it is:

Niedermayer was assessed a five minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. However, the video clearly shows that Pronger was the one who drove Homer's head into the boards and caused the cut. The NHL reviewed the play today and has suspended Pronger for game 4. I'm sure if Homer had been hurt the suspension would have been longer, but he luckily only needed a few stitches and was back out on the ice in the third period. This was clearly a dangerous cheap shot by a frustrated duo (Anaheim was down 4-0 at the time) and the punishment was just about the minimum the NHL should have given Pronger. I'm sure the league was reluctant to suspend a star player multiple games in the playoffs, but in the regular season that hit garners a 3-5 game suspension, easily.

Other than the hit, this was a fantastic game that showed the Red Wings put together three full periods of great hockey for possibly the first time in the playoffs. If Detroit continues to play complete games like this one, they could be hoisting the Cup next month.

I didn't catch the Tigers game because of the full slate of playoff games last night, but the Tigers defeated the team with the best record in the MLB thanks to a very strong outing from Justin Verlander. JV went 7 2/3 innings, striking out 7 and allowing only 2 runs. Magglio Ordonez continued to make a push for AL MVP consideration, launching a third-inning home run that cleared the green monster in Fenway and landed somewhere in the street outside. Brandon Inge also hit a home run in the third, and Pudge Rodriguez added three hits. The Tigers maintained their one game lead on the Indians in the AL Central, and pulled within two games of the Red Sox for the best record in the majors.

Overall, it was quite an eventful night for Detroit sports fans. Tonight I look forward to kicking back and enjoying a stress-free night watching NBA playoff games I don't have a large part of my happiness invested in.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Red Wings Return Game 1 Gifts, Lose 4-3 in OT

First of all, I will not say Detroit clearly deserved to win this game. Detroit was outshot (33-27), outhit (43-33), and Anaheim controlled much of the play in their 4-3 overtime victory. However, Detroit put themselves in position to take command of the series, going up 3-2 on Pavel Datsyuk's power play goal 1:03 into the third period. Anaheim's answer was one of the stranger goals I've seen in my twelve years (shut up, I'm nineteen) of watching hockey. After Samuel Pahlsson won a faceoff in the Detroit zone, Travis Moen fired a quick wrister that Hasek appeared to stop. Unfortunately, the puck got caught in Hasek's left leg pad, and video review revealed his momentum carried his leg, and the puck, across the goal line. Moen's goal knotted the game at 3 and eventually forced overtime, where Scott Niedermayer won the game with a wrist shot that beat Hasek from the right circle. Niedermayer certainly benefited from an unlucky break for the Wings when Daniel Cleary, who was marking Niedermayer, lost an edge and fell into the boards. Scott's brother Rob found the elder Niedermayer wide open, and his screened shot found the short side.

The Detroit power play once again looked strong, going 2-7 on the day. The Wings showed great puck movement on both Niklas Lidstrom's second period goal and Pavel Datsyuk's go-ahead marker in the third. Detroit has had the clear advantage on special teams so far this series, but have an uncharacteristic 1-5 disadvantage on even-strength goals. The Red Wing penalty kill wasn't quite as solid as the boxscore would tell you, as they gave up goals just after two early penalties expired, but they came up big after Mikael Samuelsson took a delay of game penalty in overtime. Kirk Maltby also scored a stellar shorthanded goal, batting his own rebound out of the air and past Giguere to pull the Wings into a 1-1 tie in the second.

Hasek didn't look as spectacular as he had the last few games of the playoffs, but he still came up with a few magnificent saves, most notably robbing Ryan Getzlaf on a shorthanded breakaway early in the first. I'm sure he wants the game-tying goal back, but a goalie doesn't usually expect a puck to get caught in their pads the way that one did. Hasek should be able to shake off this game and play like he has the rest of the playoffs.

This loss was tough to take, just because Detroit looked to be on the verge of taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Despite both goals that were video reviewed being clearly the right call, it always hurts a little more to know that both were oh-so-close to not being goals at all. The way this series it going, it looks like it could come down a couple bounces going one way or the other. Hopefully Hasek will rebound from this game and Detroit get some of those bounces going in their favor again.

Game 3 is tomorrow at 9.

Chicago Beats Detroit; Pistons Fans Say 'Meh'

The Chicago Bulls ended the Pistons dream of stampeding through the playoffs undefeated yesterday, taking game 4 102-87 and keeping their season alive. Detroit shot quite poorly (37.3%), were out-rebounded 51-33, and were unable to fully recover from a 23-point third quarter deficit. The Pistons were able to come as close as 7 late in the fourth, but could not find the basket when they needed to most.

Detroit's starting five did not consistently produce as they did in the game 3 comeback. Chris Webber was the only Piston whose performance stayed the same, but unfortunately that performance was once again a 0-point dud. Chauncey Billups led the Pistons with 23 points and 8 assists, but was only 5-14 from the field and committed a late charge that basically sealed Detroit's fate. Rasheed Wallace went 4-16, including a woeful 2-12 from three, finishing with 14 points. Rip Hamilton shot almost as poorly, going 4-12 from the field and scoring only 11 points. Tayshaun Prince had 18 points on 8-16 shooting, but allowed the first big game by Luol Deng (25 points and 13 rebounds; 10-15 shooting) on the defensive end.

I guess it was inevitable that the Pistons would lose one (actually, I'd be an idiot if I thought we could run the table, even in the Eastern Conference). However, it is at least a good sign that Detroit could play as poorly as they did and still be within striking distance late in the game. Four of the starting five went ice cold from the field, Detroit was manhandled on the boards, and yet with 3:44 left Detroit had the ball with a chance to make it a two-possession game. While the Pistons have seemed disinterested for long stretches in Chicago, I don't expect that to carry over to game 5 in Detroit. I fully expect the Pistons to close out the series tomorrow night.

Oh, and you didn't expect me to forget about the Flip Murray dunk, did you?

Savage. Game 5 tips off tomorrow night at 8.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Standing Tall

With any other team, the situation would have been bleak at best. Down 19 with 10:27 left in the third quarter, on the road, playing a team with a sense of desperation, to an outsider the Pistons probably looked cooked. Turn off your television, go to bed, wake up excited for a pivotal game 4 cooked. But these are the Detroit Pistons. I will not claim that I knew we would come back and win it all along. However, I knew Detroit would not let themselves get blown out and give Chicago the kind of momentum boost that can change the outlook of an entire series. Hell, we've already come back against them once this season, overcoming a 16-point second half deficit to defeat Chicago in Big Ben's return to the Palace. If Detroit could cut the lead down to ten by the fourth, I was confident in our chances.

The Pistons did me nine better. After trading baskets back and forth with Chicago for a few minutes, Detroit ended the quarter on a 22-6 run, punctuated by Rasheed Wallace's three-pointer as time expired. Detroit may have been down 61-60, but there was no doubt who was going to win the game. Even with the game tied at 66 with seven minutes left, Detroit had the swagger of an experienced championship team, while the Baby Bulls no longer were playing desperate and now were just playing scared.

Then came the first in a flurry of Pistons' fourth quarter daggers that brought to mind the Ides of March. Rasheed found Chauncey Billups wide open at the top of the key, and even before Mr. Big Shot had released the ball a literal wail of horror echoed throughout the United Center. They had seen enough of the Pistons to know exactly where that ball was going, and sure enough, Chauncey's three gave Detroit a 69-66 lead they would never relinquish. Chicago did its best to hang around, not letting the lead hit double digits until there were eight seconds left, but the Pistons were not going to relinquish the lead they had fought so hard to take. A meaningless Luol Deng three-point play made the final score 81-74, and may have saved some face for the Bulls in the eyes of fans who just check the box score and don't read the summary, but Detroit won convincingly in a game they were losing by 19 in the third.

While Detroit received little contribution out of Chris Webber (0-5, 0 points) or the bench (5 points), Detroit's core of Sheed, Rip, Chauncey and Tayshaun carried the team to victory. Prince led the team with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and had the game's signature play, a thunderous jam in the face of Andres Nocioni. Chauncey scored 21 and added 7 assists, and certainly lived up to his nickname. Rasheed had two huge threes in the second half, and finished with 16 points and 11 boards. Finally, Rip contributed 16 points, and logged a solid 45 minutes despite finishing with 5 fouls. Fittingly, it was the four remaining starters from the championship team that effectively finished off the team featuring the fifth, Ben Wallace.

Detroit looks to complete the sweep on Sunday, and if last night's game is any indication, Detroit should take the game on Chicago's home court. If the Bulls were going to step up and make this a series, game 3 was the only possible time to do so. Now, they are looking uphill at a Piston team that has their number and a history that says what they need to do is impossible (teams facing a 0-3 deficit are 0-81 in the history of the NBA). Detroit winning the series is an inevitability, and it appears that taking game 4 will be as well.

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

YouTube Ode to The Great Gazoom

At some point today, Joel Zumaya will undergo surgery to repair a torn tendon in his middle finger, an injury suffered while warming up in the bullpen. He is expected to miss three months, and his injury leaves the Tigers looking for a reliable set-up man in their currently struggling relief corps.

Needless to say, Zumaya will be missed. He is one of the game's most intimidating pitchers, and his electrifying fastball is one of the most distinctive pitches in the league, up there with Johan Santana's changeup and Mariano Rivera's cutter. When I finally saved up enough money last season to buy a Tigers jersey, there was no doubt in my mind which player I would choose. Zumaya's 54 home white holds a special place in my closet alongside my Grant Hill throwback (I know, I need a new Pistons jersey) and Barry Sanders high school uni. He's my answer to "Who's Your Tiger?" While I believe the troika of Rodney, Grilli and Seay (don't get me started on Jose Mesa) will be able to hold down the fort in Zumaya's absence, the Tigers and their fans will certainly miss the excitement that every radar-busting fastball and knee-buckling curve
brought the team.

So here's to a full recovery, Zoom:

The overpowering pitcher...

...and accomplished actor.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Tremendous Night for Detroit Sports

Last night I got to experience my first Piston playoff game live at the Palace. As a result, I have no notes from last night, and was far too excited to pay close enough attention to really give the game justice in a summary. I will say this: the Palace was absolutely electric last night. I have never been to a sporting event of any kind with that great of an atmosphere. Also, I missed the entirety of the Red Wings game, only catching the final (uneventful) period via radio on the drive home. Final scores: Pistons 108-Bulls 87; Wings 2-Sharks 0.

Chris Webber did this:

The Red Wings did this:

Needless to say, I am very happy.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Um, That Was Easy

Last night at the Palace, the Pistons pretty much ran the Chicago Bulls off the court, taking game 1 95-69 in a game that was never really in doubt. Chauncey and Rip each scored 20, and five Pistons scored in double figures, but the real story was the tenacious defense of Detroit. Chicago never scored more than 23 points in a quarter, and only managed 12 (twelve!) points in the fourth as the Pistons pulled away and made the game laughable. Only two Bulls finished in double figures, and Detroit forced 22 turnovers while holding Chicago to 32.9% shooting.

The bench also came up big, with Jason Maxiell leading the charge, scoring 12 points on 5-6 shooting and pulling down 6 rebounds and Antonio McDyess (6 points, 10 rebounds), Carlos Delfino (6 points), Lindsey Hunter (6 assists, 3 steals) and Flip Murray (2 assists) all contributing as well.

Detroit's defense suffocated the Bulls, not allowing them to get many open looks or open lanes to the basket. Luol Deng, who led the Bulls with 18 points, was only 7-16 from the field and did not get to the rim like he did against Miami. Ben Gordon, who the Bulls rely on for much of their scoring, netted only 7 points on 2-9 shooting and was hampered with foul trouble for much of the first half. The Bulls were quick to bring Chris Duhon, a solid defender, off the bench when it was clear that Gordon was overmatched guarding either Chauncey or Rip. As a result, their offense suffered greatly without their best outside shooting threat.

On offense, the Pistons were able to create a lot of open looks from the outside due to Chauncey and Rip's ability to get to the basket. The Bulls collapsed at any sign of penetration, and Detroit was able to shoot 8-18 from beyond the arc, many of those completely uncontested. However, for such a large blowout, the offense wasn't as dominant as one would think. Detroit only shot 43.9% from the field and turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 16 times. This actually bodes very well for the rest of the series, as Detroit proved it could dominate Chicago without getting the most out of the offense.

Obviously, I don't expect the entire series to be this easy. Detroit still hasn't gone to Chicago, and the Bulls will certainly be motivated to not be embarrassed like this again. However, this game certainly swings the momentum of the series strongly in Detroit's favor, and a solid game 2 victory may be hard for this young Bulls team to recover from. Maybe this series won't be as close as everyone (including myself) predicted it would be. Game 2 is Monday night at 8.

Mad Max Gets Nasty (Getty Images)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Red Wings vs. Sharks: Game 5 Recap

The Red Wings once again overcame a slow start to beat the Sharks, scoring four unanswered goals after Marcel Goc's first period tally gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead. Detroit now has a 3-2 series lead heading into Monday's game 6 in San Jose. My thoughts on the game:
  • Tomas Holmstrom continues to show just how valuable he is to Detroit's offense since his return from an eye injury suffered in the Calgary series. Homer was on the ice for all four Detroit goals, assisting the first Red Wing goal and scoring one of his own on the power play in the third. Holmstrom created the first goal by keeping the puck alive twice in front of the San Jose net, and eventually knocking the puck over to where Zetterburg could shoot into the open net. His third period goal was classic Homer, as he camped out in front of the net and one-timed a Zetterburg pass from point blank range. On the Samuelsson power play goal, Holmstrom helped to set it up by attracting enough attention in front for Samuelsson to get a wide open shot from the right point. The power play has really come alive with Homer back on the ice.
  • Besides the (really) soft goal allowed in the first, Hasek was nothing short of spectacular. He seemed determined not to let his early mistake cost Detroit the series, and stopped several fantastic scoring chances by the Sharks. Hasek hasn't allowed more than two goals in his last seven games, and has been Detroit's most consistent performer (except maybe Lidstrom) in the playoffs.
  • Datsyuk's goal in the second was a tremendous display of effort and craftiness. As Nabokov came out of the net to play a Detroit clear, Datsyuk charged right at him, gave him a quick shoulder fake to his right, and then blocked Nabokov's clearing attempt to the left. He was then able to put the puck into the abandoned net, giving Detroit a huge momentum boost and swinging the series in the Red Wings' favor. The Datsyuk-Zetterburg-Holmstrom line absolutely dominated the game today, and clearly outshined the heralded first line of San Jose.
  • The defense really stepped up in the absence of Mathieu Schneider, who left the game in the first with a broken wrist and will miss the rest of the playoffs. Lidstrom logged almost 30 minutes of ice time, and was his usual Norris-winning self. Lilja has been very solid in the playoffs, and continued his strong play with a great game this afternoon. The only concern on the back line seems to be AHL call-up Kyle Quincey, who was exposed by Milan Michalek in the third with a deke that undressed Quincey and gave Michalek a wide open lane to the net.
  • Schneider's injury may hurt the Detroit power play for the duration of the playoffs, although Samuelsson scored from Schneider's familiar point spot in the third. Hopefully he can continue his strong play from this game, and Brett Lebda can return from his ankle injury soon (he practiced Friday but was scratched for today's game). Otherwise, Detroit will be dangerously thin on defense.
Overall, a fantastic effort from Detroit today, especially in the final two periods. Game 6 is Monday in San Jose.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Pistons/Bulls Round 2 Preview

Tomorrow night the Detroit Pistons tip off their heavily anticipated second round series with the Chicago Bulls. The series is being billed as the return of Ben Wallace, but it also pits a young, up-and-coming squad (Chicago) against the established, playoff-tested power in the East (Detroit, if you couldn't guess). Here's my take of the matchups:

Point Guard- Chauncey Billups vs. Kirk Heinrich: With Ben gone, Chauncey is the de facto leader of the Pistons, and has been their best and most consistent performer this season. Unfortunately, he won't be able to bully Heinrich like he did Jameer Nelson in the first round. Hinrich is big for a point guard (6'3", 190) and a solid defender. He is adept at running the offense, with a 2.62 assist/turnover ratio, and is a good outside shooter (41.5% on threes). This is a clear edge for the Pistons, but Heinrich is still a solid player who will defend Billups much better than the Magic did. Edge: Pistons

Shooting Guard- Rip Hamilton vs. Ben Gordon: Gordon is an extremely good scorer, and has the ability to shoot from the perimeter (41.3% on threes) or get to the basket (he led the Bulls with 5.4 FTA per game this season). However, Gordon is extremely small for a shooting guard (6'3", 200) and is not known for his defense, often getting into foul trouble trying to guard bigger players. This bodes well for Rip, who had a lot of success when the Magic tried guarding him with Nelson during the first round. The Bulls need Gordon on the court for his scoring, but he may have a tough time staying out there if Hamilton is knocking down his shots. Edge: Even

Small Forward- Tayshaun Prince vs. Luol Deng: Deng has been a revelation for the Bulls this season, averaging 18.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in his first full season as a starter. He is tremendously athletic, and scores most of his points either on drives to the basket or putting back offensive rebounds. He is also a solid defender who uses his combination of length (6'9") and athleticism well. The key to this series may be whether or not Prince, who was named to the NBA All-Defensive second team this year, can stop Deng from getting to the basket. If anyone can do it, it's Tayshaun, who uses his huge wingspan and quickness to frustrate opposing forwards. However, Deng has been tough to stop in the playoffs, lighting Miami up for 26.3 points and 9 rebounds per game in the first round. Edge: Bulls

Power Forward
- Rasheed Wallace vs. P.J. Brown: P.J. is certainly getting up there, and at 37 years old is not much of an offensive force. He can still defend, though, and even guarded Shaq occasionally in the first round. He does not play a big part in their offense, although he is a threat to knock down a mid-range jumper if his man leaves to stop Gordon or Deng's penetration. We'll see whether or not he keep up with Wallace on the defensive end when Sheed decides to stay out on the perimeter. Andres Nocioni plays almost the exact same amount as Brown, so we will only see this matchup around 20 minutes a game. Edge: Pistons

- Chris Webber vs. Ben Wallace: Piston fans are all very much familiar with Big Ben, a tenacious defender with a few offensive, um, shortcomings. Wallace's inability to handle or shoot the basketball will help mask Webber's difficulties on the defensive end, and even allow him to help when Gordon or Deng get to the basket. On defense, Wallace will patrol the lane and attempt to discourage Detroit from driving to the basket. However, with every single Piston able to shoot and pass from the outside, Wallace will not be able to just stand in the middle and swat shots as they come to him. According to, Chicago actually scored less (not a surprise) and allowed more points (!) per 100 possessions when Wallace was on the floor for them versus when he was on the bench. This seems tough to fathom, but at least in this series, Wallace's great defense may not overcome his total lack of an offensive game. Webber has the opposite problem, so I'm still going to call this matchup Even.

- Chicago is a deep team, with Nocioni, Chris Duhon, Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha all playing big roles off the bench. Nocioni is Chicago's fourth leading scorer, averaging 14.1 points per game this season on 46.7% shooting. He is a solid defender, but is often put at power forward, where Rasheed may be able to take advantage of his size (6'7") in the post. Duhon is a solid point guard, and does about as good a job as Heinrich of not turning the ball over (2.95 A/TO). He is not as adept a shooter as Heinrich, but can still hit from the outside and play solid defense. Thomas is a freak athlete, but has not received much playing time as a result of his out-of-control play at times. Sefolosha is a versatile guard/forward and a decent shooter, but is also an inexperienced rookie who may not get many minutes as the playoffs move on. The Pistons are certainly deep in the frontcourt, bringing Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell, and Dale Davis off the bench. Detroit does not have the same depth in the backcourt, however, with only the inconsistent SG/PG Flip Murray and the offensive disaster that is backup PG Lindsey Hunter. Edge: Bulls

This should be an extremely competitive series, and it may come down to home court advantage. The Pistons have only lost one possible series-clinching game (game 7 of the finals in San Antonio) since the beginning of the 2003 playoffs, and I fully expect Detroit to put themselves in a position to clinch the series by game 6 in Chicago. Look for Hamilton to have a big series against the smaller Gordon, and Rasheed to take advantage of Brown's age and Nocioni's height as well. Tayshaun should be able to play well enough against Deng to keep him from doing what he did to Miami. Pistons in 6.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Back from the Brink

Sometime after 1 am last night, a yell echoed through a quiet neighborhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was not a yell of terror, anger, or surprise. It was the yell of a man rejuvenated, a man overjoyed. It was also probably a yell that pissed off the neighbors, but I can't really say I cared much at that moment.

That same scene probably played itself out in hundreds of households around the state of Michigan. What was the explanation for such widespread rudeness and unconcern for others' need for sleep? With 3:56 left in the overtime period, Mathieu Schneider gloved down a Scott Hannan clearing attempt and unleashed a slapshot that deflected off Patrick Rissmiller and beat San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov to win game 4 by a score of 3-2.

47 minutes and 53 seconds of game time earlier, the Red Wings could not have looked more dead in the water (or Shark Tank, if you prefer). With 11:53 left in the second period, Marcel Goc scored on a knuckling shot that deflected off the helmet of Andreas Lilja and fluttered over a bewildered Dominik Hasek. Despite Detroit's protests of the Sharks having too many men on the ice (they did) and a video review to make sure the puck didn't go in off a high stick (it didn't), San Jose took a 2-0 lead on the Goc goal. At this point, the Wings looked listless, the Shark Tank was alive, and I was checking to see when the next Pistons game was.

New life came with under 10 seconds left in the second period, as Tomas Holmstrom battled a deflected point shot out of the air, beating Nabokov and pulling Detroit within one. The late goal gave Detroit some momentum heading into the final period, and took the energy out of the San Jose crowd. It was also great to see Holmstrom have such a big impact in his first game back from his eye injury, as he put some grit back in the Wings' toothless power play.

Tomas Holmstrom, King of Swing (screenshot from NHL Highlight Machine)

Detroit looked to be in trouble again late in the third. While they had been able to pepper Nabokov with shots, they were unable to put in the equalizer. With under a minute left, Detroit pulled Hasek, and I watched in horror as Robert Lang, King of All Things Uninspiring, skated what may have been the last truly meaningful shift in Detroit's season. Just as I was cursing his name and searching for the nearest pitchfork and torch, looking to give Mike Babcock my two cents on just who Detroit should put on the ice in crunch-time, season-on-the-brink type situations, the miraculous happened. Valtteri Filppula dug a puck off the side boards and got the puck to Lang, who froze the San Jose defender with a quick pass fake. Never have I changed my opinion of a man quite so quickly, as King Uninspiring became Captain Clutch with one flick of the wrist, beating Nabokov with 33.1 seconds remaining in the game.

Lang sends the game into overtime, temporarily stifling the muttered swearing of thousands of Red Wings fans (photo from

14:52 into the overtime period, San Jose's Craig Rivet shot the puck into the stands from his own zone, drawing a delay of game penalty. A minute into the ensuing Detroit power play, Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan took control of the puck behind the net and attempted to clear the puck out to center. Schneider reached up and gloved the puck out of the air, and sent a shot hurtling towards the San Jose net. Seconds later, I was letting the world know just how happy I was that Detroit had tied the series. And if that pissed off the neighbors, well screw them; they should have been watching the Wings anyway.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Sheff Finally Serving Up Hits

The Tigers completed their sweep of the Baltimore Orioles this afternoon, winning 3-2 thanks to solid performances from Gary Sheffield (4-4, HR) and Nate Robertson (6.2 IP, 2 ER). Craig Monroe broke a 2-2 tie in the 6th with a solo home run, his second in as many days, to give the Tigers the victory. The Tigers are now on a season-high 4 game winning streak, and have a good chance of extending it in their upcoming series with the Kansas City Royals (8-19).

After accumulating a dismal .119 batting average over the first 17 games of the season, Sheffield has hit .412 since April 23, including 2 home runs in the last 3 games. Jim Leyland's magic touch may have struck again, as he gave Sheffield the day off during the April 22 game against the White Sox, and Sheff has been on a tear since.

Another Tiger looking up after a poor start to the 2007 season is Fernando Rodney, who pitched a scoreless 8th inning today. He has only allowed 1 run in his last 6.1 innings pitched, and has lowered his ERA to 5.14. Considering it stood at 7.88 a mere week ago, Rodney is clearly headed in the right direction. He is finally locating his fastball, allowing him to use that pitch to set up his nasty changeup.

Robertson improved his record to 3-1. His 2.48 ERA stands 5th in the AL. The Tigers have a day off tomorrow before going on the road against Kansas City Friday at 8:10 pm.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Red Wings vs. Sharks: Game 3 Recap

Detroit dropped game 3 to San Jose last night 2-1, falling behind the Sharks 2-1 in the Western Conference Semifinal. The Wings took a 1-0 lead on a Niklas Lidstrom power play goal, and dominated the first period for the first time in the series. However, the second and third periods were a different story, as San Jose controlled the puck throughout and finally took the lead on a Jonathan Cheechoo PP goal with 6:41 left in the game. Some thoughts:
  • Hasek was outstanding this game, making quite a few snow angels in an effort to keep the puck out of the net. He was more in control playing the puck outside the net as well. He wasn't at fault on either goal, and put Detroit in a position to win the game late. Unfortunately, the offense could not come through for him.
  • Bertuzzi was just awful. He clearly isn't 100% physically, has no jump in his step on offense, isn't throwing his weight around, and is getting beat on the defensive end. On top of all that, he took two stupid penalties in the last half of the game that pretty much killed any momentum the Wings had. His elbow to the head of Ryan Clowe (in the offensive zone no less) late in the second was a dirty play and an obvious penalty that ended possibly Detroit's best chance to retake the lead after Clowe scored the equalizer just minutes earlier. Then, with under 3 minutes to play in the third, he kicked Joe Thornton's foot out from under him while going towards the San Jose net. Some would argue it was a dive by Thornton, but you can't put yourself in a position to get called for a penalty, especially when you're Todd Bertuzzi and you know the referees are looking for an excuse to put you in the box.
  • There were way too many attempts by Zetterburg and Datsyuk to charge into three or four defenders alone during the latter two periods. Yes, both are incredible puckhandlers, but 95 times out of 100 that play is going to end in an offensive zone turnover. Detroit looks to those two to spark the offense, and neither did a good job of providing any spark after the first period.
  • Joe Thornton absolutely controlled the game for San Jose. He logged 23 minutes of ice time, the most of any forward for either team, and had an impact on both the offensive and defensive end. He was the big reason the Sharks were able to control the puck so much through the latter part of the game, and also made a big defensive play on Datsyuk in the final minutes that ended a good scoring chance.
Game 4 is tomorrow night in San Jose, and is about as close to a must-win and you can get in a non-elimination game. It is tough to see Detroit stealing 3 in a row, including game 6 in the Shark Tank, if they drop the game tomorrow. Luckily, Tomas Holmstrom has been cleared and will play tomorrow. Hopefully he will do a better job pouncing on the rebounds left by Nabokov than Detroit has done thus far.