It was another night in another town, but here in the final seconds was Tayshaun Prince out top again against Hedo Turkoglu, with the game hanging in the balance. Turkoglu this time drove right, and he rose to jam the ball and draw the foul to tie. Prince was having none of that. Enough with the Magic. Enough with Hedo. It had been hard. It had been ugly. It was time for it to be over.
So Prince rose inch for inch with Turkoglu, as if taped to his body, and he pinned the would-be jam against the backboard and off the rim. It caromed away, the game was safe, and moments later, the Pistons were headed to a familiar place, the Eastern Conference finals, for the sixth straight year.
Sweet Six Team. They did it the old fashioned way. They stole it. They swiped it. They poked it, scooped it, slapped it, wrestled it away. Twelve times they stole the ball Tuesday night. Nine other times, Orlando threw it away under pressure.
Twenty one turnovers? Thirty-four points off turnovers?
“That’s what we knew we were gonna win the game on,” Rip Hamilton said after the Game 5 clincher. “Defense.”
They weren’t going to win it on shooting. This was one of those performances that, were it a painting, it would be oil on velvet. Were it music, it would be bad Karaoke. It was clanks, rims, backboards and air balls.
But these Pistons are like flipping a deck of cards, you never know what you’re going to pull.
And any card can win it. Drawing the big man with a heavy heart
So on Tuesday, they pulled Antonio McDyess from the deck, on a night when he received the sad news of his grandmother’s passing just hours before the game. McDyess, 33, is from a tiny town in Mississippi, and is the oldest Pistons player without a ring. He’s already an emotional guy, and his grandma’s death seemed to focus him, if only as an escape. He played the fourth quarter as if his own life would be judged in heaven by his effort. He notched 11 hard points and six huge rebounds. He helped pull the Pistons back to a lead, and kept them there with heart and muscle, fighting for loose balls, drawing fouls, and hitting jumpers when it seemed nobody could hit a jumper.
Afterwards, he spoke about his grandmother: “I know this is something she would want. She watched every game I guess she was sick for like a weekend, but my mother didn’t want me to know because we were in the playoffs.
“It was definitely devastating. But I know tonight she was watching over me. So I just took it as that and motivated myself from there.”
And because of efforts like that, because of rookie Rodney Stuckey aging before our eyes, playing turnover-free basketball for 33 minutes, scoring 15 and dishing six assists, because of Prince’s block, because of Rasheed Wallace’s defense, because of Hamilton’s deadeye shooting at the line, 16-for-16, the Pistons are where they are this morning.
Resting, with the day off.
Sweet Six Team. Earning the chance to watch and wait
Say what you will about the rocky roads they take. The Pistons are the first NBA team to reach this postseason mile marker. They did it in three games over the minimum. They are sitting in the big room now, waiting on the sexier and more publicized franchises from Boston and LA.
Yes, there’s something to be said for superstars. But there’s more to be said for consistent excellence. For a half a dozen straight years, Detroit has been one of the last two teams standing in its conference, a feat matched only in recent years by the showtime Lakers of the 1980’s.
And Tuesday night, they made it despite their shots clanking and their roster diminished by the absence of Chauncey Billups and the endless shriek of the referees’ whistles.
“It’s an awesome feeling ” Hamilton said, “but it’s one of those things that we feel as though we’re supposed to We have to try to get back to the Finals.”
Which comes soon enough. For now, an exhale, a farewell to Magic, and a pat on the back for a guy with a heavy heart, and a roster with a hungry one.
Sweet Six Team.