BOSTON – Missing big. Bigs, missing. The Pistons can point to many stinging plays in this heartbreaking playoff loss, many moments where Celtics karma seemed to overwhelm them. But for all the histrionics of the final minutes, remember: When Kendrick Perkins is the best player on the floor, it’s not the karma, it’s you.
And the Pistons are out of excuses.
Kendrick Perkins? Yes. The Boston center who came straight out of a Texas high school and, if you define the Celtics by the Big Three, is sort of No. 5 1/2 , was all over this critical Game 5 Wednesday night, grabbing rebounds as if a new contract were inside each one, putting balls off the glass, blocking shots, rolling through the lane to do what centers are supposed to do: No, not stand outside and shoot threes.
In a game like this, you have to step up large and in charge, and while it’s true, the fourth quarter became a furious scramble, a one-possession game, the long-range truth for Pistons fans is this: A 23-year-old did what four Pistons big men did not do. Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess and Jason Maxiell all had some moments – notably Wallace, with his three-point shooting – but guards can shoot three-pointers. They can’t control the boards. They can’t limit teams to one shot. They can’t block or threaten shots. They can’t own the middle.
Big men do that. And Perkins did it all in Game 5. The youngest guy in either starting lineup took the Pistons to school when it came to rebounds and high-percentage shots.
And because of that, the Pistons, who like their backs against the wall, now can enjoy that feeling for two straight games.
If they’re lucky. Where were these guys?
Perkins had Boston’s first basket of the game, a slam dunk. He had the first basket of the second quarter, a lay-up. He had the first basket of the third quarter, a hook shot. He had rebounds over Wallace and around Wallace. He had lay-ups and slams past McDyess and around Maxiell. In the first half, he had more rebounds than the Pistons BY HIMSELF.
He blocked Rip Hamilton. He took the ball away from Rip and led a fast break. He set career playoff highs in points (18) and rebounds (16). Boston outrebounded Detroit, 42-25.
And as a result, a game that felt all night as if the Pistons were trying to stand on a rocking ship, tilted away in the third period, and became another double-digit deficit. Yes, the Pistons fought back from 17 down to within one. They put everything they had into it. But they had to put in so much because they were so far down.
And in the aftermath of this 106-102 loss, with elimination looming, with Perkins celebrating his career night – sweat dripping from his head to his stringy goatee – it is fair to ask why the Pistons bigs didn’t play bigger?
Wallace? Yes, he had lots of three-pointers. Without those, Detroit isn’t even close in this game. But as good as he was as a shooter, he was that absent on the boards and on defense. ‘Sheed had four rebounds Wednesday? Four? Yep. And Kevin Garnett has been winning the big-man battle with Wallace almost every night in this series. But Rasheed was hardly alone. Prince was a nonfactor most of the night. He finished with eight points. McDyess, who has been such a heavenly story this series, crashed to Earth in this one, fouling out with more than six minutes left and only one basket to his credit.
And Maxiell, the off-the-bench catalyst of Game 4, undid himself with early foul trouble. And will be captured forever in the reruns of this game getting a shot cleanly blocked by Perkins.
Missing big. Bigs, missing. Losing the momentum
So now what? Bill Russell, a great Celtics big man himself, used to say Game 2 and Game 5 are the most pivotal in a seven-game series. If so, the Pistons missed out, and the Celtics are in the driver’s seat. This is why that Game 3 loss was so gutting. Boston is not afraid of a road game anymore. It knows it can win in Auburn Hills.
Can the Pistons still take the series? “Of course,” you say. Will they? “Why not?” you say. And then comes the big question: “How?”
Well, they’ve found a way twice in the series. Perhaps they find another. They have heart. They have experience. But I can tell you this much. They won’t do it if their big guys play like small ones. The Pistons have enough guards. Their bigs need to clean the glass. Deny the easy shots. Play hard defense.
In short, take a lesson from a big kid Wednesday night.
And a little prayer wouldn’t hurt either.