BIG BEN MAKES IT A FIVE-ON-FIVE GAME

The reason you want to move the ball around in basketball – what the Pistons desperately wanted to do Thursday – is that most of the time, it ends up in the right hands.

Even if it’s not the hands you think.

Ben Wallace has been chided for his hands in the past – too small, they say, for a guy his size – but his hands were hot for most of Game 2. And we’re not just talking blocks and rebounds, his normal specialties.

We’re talking lay-ups. We’re talking finger rolls. We’re talking bounce passes.

Bounce passes?

That’s right. Like the one he made to Rip Hamilton for an easy lay-up. Or the whip pass he made to Antonio McDyess for a slam.

Ben Wallace, point guard?

Why not? He was pretty much everything else early on Thursday night, as the Pistons rode his energy to a big lead, then hung on – at times, it seemed, by their fingertips – to beat Miami, 92-88, to even these Eastern Conference finals, one game apiece.

What can Wallace do for you?

Well, Ben was the center, soaring for rebounds, grabbing some, keeping others alive.

Ben was the free safety, intercepting a Dwyane Wade alley-oop to prevent a score.

Ben was the sacrificial lamb, taking elbows to his face from Shaquille O’Neal – but drawing offensive fouls.

Ben was the hustler, chasing down a loose ball in the lane to save a possession.

And I think he was selling popcorn at halftime. A touch can mean so much

“We came out right tonight, our heads were in the game,” said Wallace, who finished with nine points (on perfect field-goal shooting), 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot. “I would like to see us finish the game the way we started it.”

Yes, it’s true, the Pistons nearly blew it at the end. They fell asleep on things like crossing the halfcourt line and bringing the ball inbounds. That’s unforgivable.

But they wouldn’t have been in the situation had the scoring not bogged down in the fourth quarter. And if you look at the tape, you’ll see why.

After the Game 1 loss, the Pistons talked about standing around, playing one-on-one basketball., getting away from the joie de vivre of fast passes and easy baskets.

But after three decent quarters of avoiding that, they seemed to fall back into that habit again. At times in that fourth quarter they looked like the French Foreign Legion dragging through the Sahara.

How do you avoid that? Well, one of the ways is to get the ball into Ben’s hands. Not necessarily as the final stop. But let him touch it. Force the defenders to at least get in the same ZIP code as him.

“It weighs on their defense,” Ben said. “We’ve got everybody involved. Now you’ve got to play honest and” not play “four against five. When I get involved in the offense, it forces the other team to keep a guy on me and not allow him to roam around. It opens up things for my teammates.”

A happy Ben is a productive Ben

So, OK, now it’s a series. We can put away the sweep talk. We can put away Game 1 as a prototype. Thursday was a much different affair, with the Shaq-Wade combination doing what it does, but the rest of the Heat playing like, well, the rest of the Heat.

Now, it’s not an accident that this game got close when the Pistons got away from the good ball movement of the first half. I’m not sure why this happens. Some of it is Miami’s defense. But some of it is just a bad new habit that the Pistons have picked up this postseason. They need to lose it.

Look, this isn’t rocket science. Four against five is never as good as five against five. And it seems to me when Ben is happy, the team is happy. So let him play hustler, free safety, point guard, shot blocker. Heck, if he wants to turn off the lights and lock the door on his way out, let him. The Pistons win as a team and lose as a team, but their heart beats louder when the ‘Fro is fearsome, and the more he touches the ball, the more fearsome he becomes.

Remember, as they say, idle hands are the devil’s tools.

And why help those Heat players?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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