PHILADELPHIA — Allen Iverson had the look, and Chucky Atkins tried to square in front of him. Atkins leaned in. He stayed on his toes. He went to swipe the ball — and instead knocked Iverson’s headband down over his eyes.

Well. There’s an idea. Maybe if they make him play blindfolded. . . .

Short of that, the Pistons had better come up with something. Because there’s even in games and there’s even in edge. And while this series may be tied at 2, the Pistons on Sunday night had their heads down for a reason.

Lost weekend. Two defeats in 28 hours. After the Pistons survived the Orlando Magic series, Ben Wallace said critics were ready “to throw dirt” on his team. This time, the dirt is from their own digging. A hole of their own.

What was most depressing Sunday night was not that the Pistons fell behind again by 10 points, but that at no point did you ever feel they were likely to come back. They were cold. They were out of sync. They were lacking defensive concentration, turning the ball over and watching Iverson light them up for huge baskets. In 28 hours, their confidence was shaken and the some old worries had resurfaced.

But not everywhere.

“Are you concerned about the way in which these two games were lost?” Wallace was asked after the 95-82 clunker.

“Ain’t no concern,” he said.

Personally, I would have been happier if he called his team out the way he did when Detroit fell behind, 3-1, to Orlando. Call me an alarmist. But effectively, the Pistons are now in the same situation. Remember, they were lucky to win Game 2 in this series. Only two missed Allen Iverson free throws have kept them from being down, 3-1, again.

What’s worse, they have fallen to this mark not through remarkable performances by Philly but through lapses in concentration, an inability to defend plays that they normally stop and a touch that is to shooting what Weird Al Yankovic is to opera.

What were the numbers? Eighteen turnovers? Thirteen steals by Philly? Iverson with 36? Only two Pistons in double-figures?

“We made a lot of mistakes out there,” said Atkins, shaking his head. “You can’t do that on the road.”

Coleman outplays Wallace

Sadly, Atkins is understating the situation. Isn’t it the Pistons who say they’re goin’ to work? So why was lunky Derrick Coleman, whose sprightly years are well behind him, outplaying the Pistons almost by himself, with 15 rebounds and 14 points?

Why was it that, all night long, the Pistons played like a novice rider trying to hang on to a horse? They gave up points in the paint, they gave up free passes and they gave up the lead, slowly, gradually, permanently. And yes, as Chucky said, mistakes, mistakes, mistakes.

It was a shot-clock violation. It was a palming call. It was traveling called on Tayshaun Prince. It was Mehmet Okur losing two passes and having a third stolen away. It was the Pistons turning the ball over six times in the third quarter alone. It was Michael Curry missing badly on an open shot. It was Cliff Robinson continuing a mostly horrid shooting streak, missing two clear shots on the same possession. It was Rip Hamilton losing his concentration — and the ball — to a steal-minded Iverson. It was Zeljko Rebraca, melting before our eyes, getting blocked from behind by Coleman, getting blocked again by Coleman, then throwing up a timid inside shot that barely reached the rim
— perhaps out of fear of getting blocked again by Coleman.

Hey. I know Coleman was once a major talent. But this guy should not be beating the Pistons. He should not outplay Wallace in ANY game. Instead, Coleman played as if he were five years younger and 20 pounds lighter. He had two blocks; Wallace had none. He had three steals; Wallace had none. He had 14 points; Wallace had seven.

No, it didn’t help that Chauncey Billups was laboring on his bum ankle. And maybe it would have been smarter to let him rest rather than throw the rhythm off for the rest of the team. But it was Iverson — 36 points and a deadly 11 assists — that really killed them. It’s not as if the Pistons don’t know that Iverson is going to drive and then dish. But there were moments Sunday when they looked surprised to see that Philly had other players beside No. 3.

That can’t happen.

76ers have momentum

So now the Pistons take that familiar fall-back position. “We only have to win at home and we win.” True enough. But it’s dangerous to count your home court before it hatches.

“It’s not as if going home is going to fix it by itself,” Carlisle said. “We have to make whatever changes we need to make.”

One of those had better be shooting. Another had better be concentration. Another had better be to know you’re playing Allen Iverson, not some stranger. And another? Some rebounds from players besides Wallace wouldn’t hurt.

Lost weekend. It’s a best-of-three series now. Can they win it? Sure. But do they have the momentum? Not even close.

Philadelphia is a good team but not a great one. Their successes have been nudged along by Detroit failures, and the climb the Pistons face is on them. Through their own dirt. Out of their own hole. “Goin’ to work” means uphill from here.

Otherwise, the blindfold won’t be coming down on Iverson.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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