I can’t say I’m happy to see the NBA regular season come to an end. The Pistons have had a brilliant season. They have already secured at least the 4th best record in franchise history and could reach 60-wins for only the third time in franchise history. The starters are fresh and rested for a long playoff run. Rodney Stuckey is turning into an impact player. Right now, the experts would say the Pistons have as good of a chance as any team to win the NBA Championship. From a fan-perspective, this is as good as it gets. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “this guy is crazy, winning the championship is as good as it gets.” Well, I agree if that were possible. This is where the record player comes to a screeching halt and everyone in the virtual room looks at me, venom spewing. The rest of this post isn’t going to be very popular in these parts but that’s OK. The Pistons have a chance of winning the NBA Championship like the Orlando Magic have a chance of winning the NBA Championship. Technically, both teams are going to the playoffs and have non-zero chances of winning the NBA Title. While I have no doubt that the Pistons are better than the Magic, I also have no doubt—like the Magic—the Pistons have almost no chance--by almost no chance I mean 10% or less--of beating the Boston Celtics in a playoff series. If LeBron and Co. can knock off the Celtics in the second round—which is also highly doubtful—then the Pistons might have a shot at making it to the finals. Until that happens though, the Pistons are going to come up short again for much of the same reasons they’ve come up short the last three years and a few new ones. Those reasons go something like this…
1). Go-to scorers count is zero
Everyone knows about Boston’s “Big Three” and Detroit’s “Best Starting Five in the NBA.” What everyone doesn’t know is that they don’t cancel each other out. Boston has a huge advantage and it has nothing to do with its bench. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen are big-time scorers who can create their own shots, demand double teams, and get to the line. Boston has it easy in crunch-time. They will hit big shots and they will not experience droughts at the end of games. The Pistons are a completely different story. The Pistons have no crunch-time scorers. They rely totally on jump shots. Sure, at times, Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace can get hot and take over a game. But, they are nowhere near as reliable as Boston’s “Big Three”. If we assume that every game in a Detroit-Boston series is going to go down to the wire, then that means Boston will have the advantage in every game. Their points will come easier thus they will win. This shouldn’t be a shock to anyone especially Flip Saunders who subtly supports my assertion…
“We got players that are very unselfish, and we got players that know in order for them to be successful that other players have to help them make plays. And, we just don’t have that one guy that can isolate on the floor and go one on five, basically, and try to create an opportunity for themselves either on a score or at the free throw line.”
An “unselfish” team without players who can “create an opportunity for themselves” might be good enough to tear up the regular season on its way to 60 wins but it isn’t good enough to advance beyond the Eastern Conference Finals let alone win an NBA Championship—at least not this year. I know the Pistons won an NBA Championship in 2004 but that was clearly “right place, right time.” The ’04 Nets and Pacers are nothing like the ‘08 Cavs and Celtics. Or—more appropriately—Jason Kidd and Jermaine O’Neal are nothing like LeBron James and "The Boston Three Party."
2). Don’t buy the “Pistons + Road = Good” garbage.
I know the fans, media, and even the Pistons love to spout off statistics about how they are 3-1 when they don’t have home-court advantage in the playoffs since 2004. Sometimes statistics don’t mean anything and this one is one of them. How does the following statistic sound? The Pistons haven’t won a playoff series in which they didn’t have home-court advantage since 2005. Beating Boston is difficult enough but having to do it on the road is nearly impossible. The Pistons are good enough to not get rattled on the road but that will only keep them in the game at the end. I’ve already discussed Boston’s huge advantage if it comes to that.
3). The Pistons don’t have a “next level.”
Playoff basketball is much different than regular season basketball. I know I risk being nominated for the “most obvious comment of all-time” award by saying that but it’s worth noting. Other teams—like the Cavs—are much more difficult to beat in the playoffs than they are in the regular season. The Pistons had little trouble with the Cavs last year until the playoffs. The Pistons won the season-series 3-1 and looked to have a huge advantage heading into their Eastern Conference Finals match-up. The Pistons quickly found out that the Cavs are more intense and value each possession more in the playoffs. The same thing happened in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons were caught off guard by Miami’s brand of playoff basketball. The NBA is a league of stars. Those stars—presuming they are on good teams—take over in the playoffs. Tim Duncan took over the 2005 Finals. Dwyane Wade took over the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron James took over the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. It doesn’t take a lot of imagining to get to KG or Paul Pierce, or Ray Allen taking over the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the Pistons had their own brand of playoff basketball. Unfortunately, they don’t. In fact, I think the Pistons actually play slightly worse in the playoffs. Maybe it’s just an allusion because other teams play better or maybe it’s because they don’t have a go-to player who takes his game to the next level but I don’t think the Pistons are equipped to succeed in the playoffs.
None of this makes me happy. I wish the regular season was infinite. I love watching the bench. I love watching two starters mesh perfectly with three reserves. All of that stuff will come to an end in the playoffs. Flip Saunders has said that the Pistons could go 10-deep in the playoffs but I’ll have to see that to believe it. Plus, Boston’s “Big Three” play the whole game. They are in amazing shape. They are more motivated than any team in the league. In past series, the Pistons have had the luxury of getting breaks when Shaquille O’Neal had to sit. That won’t happen in this series. It will be “all Big Three all of the time.”
Feel free to disagree right now and feel free to come back in two months and berate me for “not believing.” If the Pistons beat the Celtics—with both teams healthy—then I will deserve everything reasonable (tasteful verbal jabs) that comes my way. I just don’t see it happening and I’m not going to pretend that I do. Things would’ve been slightly different if Boston didn’t pull the trigger on the KG trade. The Pistons would be major favorites to advance to the Finals. Just remember, that was the case last year and the Pistons still couldn’t get it done. This year, the path is considerably harder. The most satisfying brand of Pistons basketball that you will see until next season will take place over the final six regular season games. There will be no stress and the bench will get major minutes. I highly suggest you tune in. I’m pretty sure I know how the playoffs are going to end. One last warning: don’t be fooled when the Pistons look like the ’96 Bulls in the first two rounds.