IT’S ALL SYSTEMS GO FOR PISTONS’ ROBO-PRINCE

I sometimes have this vision of Tayshaun Prince as a long, lean robot, a super cyborg sent from the future. He is already cut at sharp angles, neck to shoulder, shoulder to elbow, as if metal were welded just beneath the flesh. He rarely shows emotion. He doesn’t sweat easily. And if you could crawl behind his eyes during crucial moments, I swear you’d see those flashing screens that give you digital info about everything in front of you.

Listen to Tayshaun explain the shot he hooked in to win Game 4 in Orlando.

“When Rasheed passed up the shot and started driving I just kicked out to the corner. Once I recognized Dwight (Howard) was on him, I told him to come set a pick and roll to see what they would do. Would they switch it? Or would Dwight leave Rasheed and could I kick it back to him for a wide-open jump shot?”

All of this, in microseconds, ran through his head. None of it ended up happening. Instead, Tayshaun dismissed hypotheticals 1, 2 and 3, and took No. 4; he drove the paint himself. He floated a hard one-hander, and put the Pistons up to stay.

“I’ve been shooting one-handed since high school,” he said. “It’s a shot I trust.”

Besides, he may have needed the other hand to reset his battery pack. Getting it done at both ends

Make no mistake. The Pistons are where they are – one win from the Eastern Conference finals – largely because of Prince. While Chauncey Billups has been up, down and out, while Antonio McDyess has suffered a broken nose, while Rip Hamilton has been hot and cold, while Jason Maxiell is still learning, Prince has been consistently excellent.

Against Philly, he all but undressed its star player, Andre Iguodala. Prince shot an insane 66% for that series, averaging 16 points and five rebounds. He’s shooting more than 50% and averaging even higher stats against Orlando. His numbers are up in every significant category from the regular season – a sign he is rising to the occasion.

Oh. And we didn’t mention defense.

After Prince hit Detroit’s last shot Saturday, there were still 8.9 seconds left. Tayshaun pressed the needed buttons and shifted into “Defense Mode.” He braced himself out top to stop Hedo Turkoglu.

What was he thinking? Let’s check memory:

“First I’m thinking Dwight is gonna come set a pick, so I’m kinda looking over my shoulder. … After a couple seconds I figured it would be an isolation. … I know that when Turkoglu goes right, he likes to get all the way to the basket. If he goes left, he likes to separate himself and shoot a mid-range jumper.

“So once he drove left, I tried to stay on that right shoulder and make him get all the way to the basket and make him shoot over me.”

As we know, Turkoglu missed (after also running into Maxiell), and the Pistons won the game. And while ESPN ran to interview Hamilton (who, with 32 points, had the most dazzling numbers), Tayshaun, one of the most unusual, multi-functional and valuable players in the league, went quietly to the locker room.

And powered down.
‘Make them have to defend us’

Prince’s ascension this postseason is welcome news for the 6-foot-9 forward, who wasn’t happy with the way last season ended. His numbers dwindled in each of the four consecutive losses to Cleveland, and in the season finale, he had just one basket in 10 tries, as LeBron James triumphed.

“The thing that has stayed with me is how we lost,” Prince said. “I think we were too concerned with how we were going to defend LeBron and not what we were going to do on our offensive end. Going into these playoffs it’s been on my mind to be concerned about what we have to do and make them have to defend us.”

So far, the Pistons are winning that battle. And Prince has been playing point guard as well as both forward spots. His game has expanded every way except in ego. He is the same soft-spoken man who admits, laughing, that if Billups had been in the game, “I highly doubt I would have taken that last shot.”

For now, they’re glad he did. So are the Supermen on Prince’s home planet.

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