NEW YORK — Didya hear the one about Patrick Ewing not scoring a point in the entire first half? Heh heh. Pretty funny, huh? Or how about the one where Dennis Rodman gets Chuck Daly to let him guard Ewing, then tells his teammates: “Don’t double-team! Let me take him myself!” Ha! What a scream. Wait. Here’s a good one: Joe Dumars, last year’s championship MVP, sits for seven long minutes down the stretch — why? who knows why? — then comes off the bench and scores the Pistons’ last 13 points of the afternoon.
“Weird,” said John Salley when this was all over. Weird? What’s really weird
is that it was all true. And the Pistons won. They regained control of their playoff march by beating the Knicks, 102-90, in a game that may have set a record for blinking at the stat sheet.
Let’s begin with Ewing, the reigning Big Kahuna of the NBA. In case you missed it in Game 3 Saturday, Ewing ate the Pistons for lunch, scoring 45 points and spending most of the time in midair, which isn’t easy, with three referees in your pocket.
But look. What a difference a day makes. Was that really Ewing at halftime Sunday, with no points and six minutes next to his name?
It was. Take this down, kids. It may never happen again. In his own building, before he even broke a sweat, Patrick Ewing got whistled for an offensive foul. Four minutes later, he got whistled for another. He sat for the rest of the first quarter, came back in to start the second and —
“squeeek!” — got called for another foul within nine seconds. Whoa. In New York? With that crowd? I hereby nominate referee Jack Madden for the Congressional Medal Of Honor. If he’s still alive this morning.
“Were you surprised at that third whistle?” the New York media demanded to know after the game.
“I had no problem with it,” said a tight-lipped Bill Laimbeer, tight-lipped, no doubt, to keep from smiling.
“Surprised?” said Salley. “No. I just breathed a sigh of relief.” He did his best mug for the camera. “I will say it was nice to have some great refs for a change.”
Wait. It gets funnier.
You would think, with Ewing sitting the second quarter, the Pistons would race away to the promised land, right? Wrong. For some reason, they could not shake the significantly smaller No-Patrick lineup, and actually fell behind a few times.
Then came the second half. Ah. This was interesting. Clearly the referees must have taken some oxygen during the break, because suddenly, they were blowing whistles like traffic cops. Among the more interesting calls? Laimbeer, who went the first half with no fouls, picking up three within 98 seconds. The typically friendly New York crowd responded with a chorus of
I love New York.
Laimbeer, however, was nothing compared to Salley, who could have made a fortune Sunday if he got paid every time the announcer said his name. In one two-minute stretch, Salley: 1) blocked a shot by Ewing; 2) blocked a shot by Charles Oakley; 3) got slapped with a technical foul for hanging on the rim; 4) fouled Ewing; 5) got called for a lane violation during the free throw.
Well. At least the crowd knew who he was.
Did we mention Rodman? We should. Somewhere in the middle of all this mess, Rodman drew the assignment of guarding Ewing, who came back in the second half with a sign around his neck that read: “If any ref blows a whistle on me this half, I will eat his children.” Naturally, Patrick played the rest of the way, scored 30 points and never even got a scolding look from a referee.
Meanwhile, the Pistons’ defenders were dropping like flies. Laimbeer got in foul trouble. James Edwards got in foul trouble. Salley . . . well, you know about Salley. And all game long, Rodman kept urging his coach, “Let me have Patrick. I can take Patrick.”
Finally, Daly agreed. Rodman told the other Pistons: “Don’t worry about me. I got him.” And there goes little Dennis on Big Bad Patrick. And he did a good job. He even blocked a Ewing shot by soaring to the third balcony. “I’m just glad he shot that ball instead of pump faking,” Rodman said later, “or I would have been flying up there looking pretty stupid.”
Anyhow, the Pistons don’t have to worry about such appearances anymore. They look fine in this series. They should wrap it up Tuesday and be done with the St. Patrick show. The Knicks played some tough basketball on their home court, but their game is not deep enough to beat Detroit without the help of a friendly officiating crew. And even then, it’s a close match.
But wait. We forgot about Dumars. As we said, he sat for seven minutes in the third and fourth quarters, then came in and scored the last 13. When asked later about his odd playing time, he said: “On this team you just have to wait your turn. It’s like being in a classroom where all the students know the answer. You just have to see who the teacher calls on.”
When the teacher called, he responded. Take that, plus typical Pistons defense, some good double-teaming, some fine press-breaking, terrific rebounding by Rodman, and good shooting all the way around (57.7 percent), and you have a victory. We won’t even tell you about Isiah Thomas stuffing Mo Cheeks, or Rodman hitting two free throws in a row, after missing all but one since the regular season ended, or the two illegal defense calls within seven seconds.
Weird? Sure. But then, we should have known it was going to be this kind of afternoon when John McEnroe, the original Mr. Tantrum, came to the game wearing a hat that read “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Yeah. Sure. Next thing you know, they’ll be telling us the Phoenix Suns are about to eliminate the LA Lakers.
They what? THOSE BATTLIN’ BIG MEN Patrick Ewing, Knicks center CATEGORY GAME 1 GAME 2 GAME 3 GAME 4AVERAGE Minutes 30 35 45 30 35.00 Field goals 9-18 9-20 14-24 9-18 51.3 percent Free throws 1-2 2-2 17-18 12-12 94.1 percent Rebounds 4 10 13 7 8.50 Assists 1 0 6 2 2.25 Fouls 4 4 4 3 3.75 Points 19 20 45 30 28.50 James Edwards, Pistons power forward CATEGORY GAME 1 GAME 2 GAME 3 GAME 4AVERAGE Minutes 20 38 28 28 28.50 Field goals 8-12 13-19 4-11 9-17 57.6 percent Free throws 2-3 6-6 5-10 1-2 66.7 percent Rebounds 5 2 3 1 2.75 Assists 1 0 2 0 0.75 Fouls 3 5 4 5 4.25 Points 18 32 13 19 20.50