INDIANAPOLIS — When you absolutely, positively have to win a game, it’s nice to have your opponents shoot like trash-can drummers on the streets in New York. You know, clank, clank, thump, thump? The Pacers saw the bottom of the net Sunday about as often as Bill Gates sees a phone bill, and their futility was all over the scoreboard.
They scraped 13 points in the first quarter, barely broke 20 halfway through the second, didn’t reach 50 until near the end of the third, and after that, who cared? Reggie Miller didn’t have a point in the first half. Jermaine O’Neal missed nine of his first 10 shots. Jeff Foster, the miracle man off the bench, played more like the bench Sunday, a wooden performance, one basket, one rebound.
Still, when you absolutely, positively have to win a game, you don’t want to wait for the other guys to stink the place up. You want to make things happen.
Enter Chauncey Billups.
Twenty-nine points, six assists and two steals later, the game is won.
“I can’t believe he hasn’t been an All Star,” gushed Pacers coach Rick Carlisle after the game was sealed, and the Pistons had tied the series at two games apiece. “I’m a big fan. He’s a great player.”
And Carlisle coaches the other guys.
Now remember, Billups had been shooting only 38 percent in this series, was fairly bleak from three-point range, and had been outplayed by Indiana’s Jamaal Tinsley in the depressing Game 3 upset. It was time for the point guard to, well, be the point guard.
He did it, right from the start.
When they absolutely, positively had to have it.
Chauncey takes charge from the start
He hit a reverse lay-up, then a fast-break lay-up. He hit a nine-foot jumper. He fed Ben Wallace for a dunk. He stole the ball and fed Rasheed Wallace for a slam. By the end of the first quarter, Billups had nine points and three assists, and the Pistons never looked back.
“I wanted to come out aggressive,” Billups said. “I think our aggressiveness dictated the game, and my team followed me.”
Indeed they did. Make no mistake. Rasheed may have verbally guaranteed this win (which was kind of unfair, because he did it in response to a reporter’s question, which isn’t quite the same thing as shouting it from a mountaintop), but words are words, and action is action.
Chauncey provided the action.
Never more than in the third quarter, the only time Indiana made any serious run. Rasheed had mouthed off after a foul, had drawn a technical, and Indiana’s free throws cut a lead that had once been 17 points all the way down to six. The crowd was back into it. The ThunderStix were pounding.
But there was Billups, once again, racing upcourt with Rip Hamilton on a fast break, laying the ball in. There he was pushing the ball and drawing a foul and making both free throws. There he was stepping back into a long jumper, 23 feet, all net.
He scored seven points in less than two minutes.
Say good night.
“Chauncey put his stamp on the game,” Carlisle said of that stretch. “And that was really the last time we were in it.”
As the point guards go …
Watching this series — at least the games the Pistons win — you wonder why it is tied. Detroit seems to have more tools, more reliable shooters, and a more solid starting five.
But from the outset, we said these two teams are mirror images of each other, and one of the things that is the same for both is that when the shooting is off, the team generally loses, and when the point guard plays well, the team generally wins.
Tinsley proved that in Game 3.
Billups proved it in Game 4.
Someone asked Billups after the game if playing the point for Larry Brown — who is notoriously hard on men at that position — had gotten any easier.
“Never,” he said, laughing. “It never gets easy. He’s relentless, man. … There are times when I go home and I’m not very happy with him, and times he goes home and he’s not very happy with me.
“But I love him to death. He’s never gonna let up. He holds your feet to the fire.”
Funny, that’s what Billups did to the Pacers.
It’s all tied up, they’re coming back to the Palace, and as Billups noted, it’s a three-game series with two games in Detroit.
Who knows what Tuesday brings? This thing has already taken some unusual turns. But this doesn’t change: When you absolutely, positively have to have the game, you want the guy wearing No. 1 to act like his number.
Oh, and if the other team wants to shoot like amateurs, you’ll take that, too.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org”