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)