by | May 6, 2002 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

So where were you? The last time the Pistons played in a conference semifinal, they were the defending NBA champions and the city was nuts. You’d cut off your arm for a ticket.

That was 11 years ago. Now, finally, here they were again on Sunday afternoon, conference semifinals, whupping up on — of all teams — the Boston Celtics, and there were tickets available, tickets unused, and so many empty seats, in certain sections you could have strung a net and played volleyball.

These were the $10 seats and $19 seats, folks. They won’t break the budget. You pay that to park near Joe Louis Arena. You pay more to sit through a Lions loss. It was Sunday afternoon, for goodness’ sake, no traffic issues, no work issues, not even a Red Wings game as alternative entertainment. So where were you?

Shame on us as a sports-crazy town. Sports-crazy towns don’t miss moments like this: 35-year-old Cliff Robinson hitting one youthful three-pointer after another — six in all — racking up 30 points. Jerry Stackhouse, returning to form, with 26 points and nearly a triple double. Michael Curry, the scrappy guy who was never drafted, who played in Germany, Belgium, France and the CBA, now starting and playing tough defense on Boston superstar Paul Pierce, and hitting the signature shot of the afternoon, a long trey as the buzzer sounded to end the third quarter.

When that ball swished, Curry threw his hands in the air as he backpedaled.

“Wooooo!” he bellowed.

The game would soon be won — with the Pistons setting a team record for three-pointers in a playoff game — giving Detroit as many playoff victories this season as it’s had in the last nine years. As comeback stories go, that’s a heck of an afternoon.

Where were you?

Beast of the East

Obviously, someplace else. There were nearly 2,000 unsold tickets Sunday. There had to be at least another 1,000 unused. And there are — get this — 5,000 seats still left for Game 2 Wednesday night.

Five thousand? That’s nearly 25 percent of the building.

Hey. In case you haven’t noticed, folks, basketball around here has not exactly been playoff rich the last few years. And in case you haven’t noticed, this Pistons team finished second in the conference with 50 victories.

And in case you haven’t noticed, there’s nobody in the East this year so formidable that the idea of the Pistons reaching the NBA Finals — you know, the Lakers, Marv Albert, NBC, all that stuff? — is preposterous, silly or even that much of a longshot.

Yet we have rows and rows of empty seats. Come on. They already give out pizza at the Palace. What are you waiting for, a free car?

“Do the empty seats bother you?” Curry was asked, after his standout effort, terrific defense, 15 points and 40 — count ’em, 40 — minutes, due to the broken hand that has sidelined Zeljko Rebraca for the series.

“Well, the people who came were loud,” he said, diplomatically. “I understand if some people don’t come. I know it’s Sunday afternoon and all.”

Uh, hello? That’s when the NBA plays its marquee games. That’s when the NFL plays its games. Sunday afternoon should be the easiest time for fans, not the hardest.

We did mention that the Pistons won, didn’t we?

Goin’ back to work

And it’s a good thing they did. This 96-84 victory may be the easiest one they get. The Celtics were coming off an emotional Round 1-clinching victory Friday night, they had to fly Saturday and play midday Sunday. Don’t be fooled by the final score. Boston isn’t likely to shoot 37.5 percent for long, and the Pistons won’t keep shooting 50.7 percent. They were still outrebounded by Boston, and when Pierce and Antoine Walker find their games, the Pistons will need all the tools in their shed.

Still, Sunday showed just how stocked that shed can be. Besides shooting well, Detroit blocked 10 shots — five by the master of rejection, Ben Wallace, three more by Robinson. The Pistons also had 24 assists. They have become good at something the old Celtics used to specialize in — whipping the ball around to the open man. On Sunday, it was not uncommon to see three Detroit passes without a dribble, followed by an open jumper. I thought that stuff had been retired to the NBA museum.

And, before we finish, how about a hand for Robinson, the shaved head, the red headband, the man who has now played in more than 100 NBA playoff games and acted Sunday as if the thrill is definitely not gone?

“Do you get in a rhythm on those three-pointers?” he was asked, after he torched Boston repeatedly from the same spots.

“Oh, yeah, it’s a rhythm,” he said. “It’s like I can’t wait to get the ball again.”

The Pistons, to a man, feel that way toward Game 2.

If we want to call ourselves a sports town, we should, too.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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