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.

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