The only way to describe the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals would be to say, "wow."
It would not dignify the word or reaction to use a capital 'W,' if only because that would imply that the New Jersey Nets provided some resistance to the Detroit Pistons in their ludicrously lopsided 22-point victory in the Palace of Auburn Hills on Monday night.
Maybe Neil Young didn't quite get it when he wrote, "It's better to rust than to fade away," because the Nets clearly did both during their eight-day layoff after sweeping the New York Knicks in the first round.
The 78-56 win for the Pistons re-wrote the Nets history book for least amount of points in a half (25), after three quarters (39) and total (56). Were it not for Tamar Slay's jumper with less than a minute remaining they would have tied the NBA all-time playoff low of 54 points.
|Tayshaun Prince and the Pistons rise above the Nets to open their second-round series.(AP)|
And no ... nobody touched it.
That's not to underestimate what the Pistons accomplished. They have proven to be one of the best defensive teams of all time this season. They set league records for consecutive games holding teams to less than 100 points, and then to less than 70. In fact, it was the Nets that broke the latter streak in March, insultingly, by fouling intentionally in the final minute for the opportunity to get a basket and score 71 points in an 18-point blowout.
They never got that close Monday night. They were within five midway through the second period, but scored only 24 points over the next 26 minutes. Granted, the Pistons were sloppy offensively, the 22 turnovers preventing the score from becoming even more disproportionate. But their defense certainly had control of the Nets, with whom they split four games during the regular season.
The March blowout of the Nets appeared to be an augur of things to come, if only because that was the first time the Nets saw Rasheed Wallace, acquired on Feb. 19, in a Pistons uniform. With Wallace and Wallace up front, plus Mehmet Okur and Elden Campbell coming off the bench, the Pistons are much too big for the Nets and All-Star Kenyon Martin to be effective inside.
Their only hope is to force the Pistons to miss and get Jason Kidd the ball out on the fast break. The Nets did have 19 fast-break points in the game, but considering the Pistons had 22 turnovers, that's nothing and tells Pistons coach Larry Brown their transition defense was pretty good.
It also shows how badly the Nets were battered on the boards.
Yes, it's only Game 1 and history says teams often win the ensuing game after a blowout. Heck, that's what the Milwaukee Bucks did to the Pistons in Game 2 of the first round after the Pistons had beaten them by 26 in Game 1.
But the big picture was there for everyone to see.
With apologies to Neil, the Nets were both rusted and fading away.
- Second-year Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince continued his remarkable playoff performance with 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Prince was 4-for-4 in the first half, giving him a 10-quarter run from the first round in which he had hit 23-of-30 shots (.767). Over the last four games, he's averaged 18.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists, while shooting .660 from the field. That's compared to his regular season averages of 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists, while shooting .467 from the field. And that's not to mention stopping Richard Jefferson dead in his tracks with 1-of-12 shooting.
- Rodney Rogers, allegedly the Nets' designated "shooter" off the bench, has been horrid in the playoffs with the exception of 5-of-7 in the Game 2 romp of the Knicks in the first round. In the other four games, including Monday's 0-for-6 shooting with one point, he's averaged 3.3 points and made just 4-of-25 shots from the field -- a startling .160. Even including Game 2, he's still just 9-of-32 (.281) in the postseason.
- A bigger concern for the Nets has to be the ineffectiveness of starting center Jason Collins, who really hasn't improved at all this season. The only matter of note in the playoffs so far was the hit that knocked Tim Thomas out of the playoffs in the first round -- a game in which he fouled out in 13 minutes. For the playoffs overall, he has averaged just 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 20.8 minutes, with more fouls (22) than either points or rebounds.
- While Rasheed Wallace showed no ill-effects from his plantar fascia problem, his temperament problem with officials reared its ugly head however. Wallace, who twice broke the all-time record for technical fouls in a season with 37 and 41 in 2000 and 2001 but has since cut back into the low teens, picked up two quick fouls and was all over the officials from the beginning. Nonetheless, his eight points, three rebounds and one block belied the strong defensive presence he had inside and attention he drew on the offensive end, particularly when it came to moving the ball for open shots.
- We'll find out how much size and experience matters Tuesday night in Miami when the Heat match up with the New Orleans Hornets for Game 7 of their first-round series. The Heat opened up a 2-0 lead in the series, but home court has reigned supreme in this series. Baron Davis has carried the Hornets, who have yet to have anybody else score more than 18 points in the series. Rookie Dwyane Wade has essentially fought Davis even though the six games.
- Speaking of home-court domination, the higher seed (all with home-court advantage) compiled a 31-7 record in the first round entering the final game between the Heat and Hornets.