PISTONS TAKE IT QUICKLY, QUIETLY

The nice thing about a Pistons-Pacers game is you go in with such low entertainment expectations a fast break seems like Paul McCartney doing “Yesterday.” You want to scream.

Well, let ‘er rip. When Ben Wallace is playing like a mad scoring machine, when the Pistons have 52 points at halftime, when you can actually hear their thundering feet moving downcourt with (gulp) speed — then holler away.

Because you know the night will at least be fun — and most likely victorious.

Because the Pistons, despite their reputation, like to go fast. And they got more chances than they figured Monday night. Lots more. I think I actually saw some of them panting.

Against the Pacers, the lawn cricket of the NBA?

Yes. Combine that unlikely speed with Wallace, who was up, over, even sometimes under the rim (a powerful 21 points) and you understand how the Pistons were never really challenged in Game 1.

“(Ben) had us on our heels a lot of the night,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said.

And he’s not even the fastest guy.

On their heels? Remember, this was Detroit-Indiana. That’s supposed to mean George Foreman-Larry Holmes — the fat versions. It’s supposed to mean slogging, meandering, walk-it-up, back-it-in basketball. As sports go, Pistons-Pacers is a lumberjack waiting for a tree to fall.

So what were all these fast breaks? Tayshaun Prince with a no-look bounce pass to a streaking Rip Hamilton for a lay-up? Rip returning the favor with an alley-oop that Tayshaun walloped through the rim for an 18-point lead? Hey. Don’t these guys know the speed limit? Isn’t this a work zone? Ninety-six points? Against Indy?

Big Ben clocks in

How about Ben? He started the game with a poke in the eye from Stephen Jackson and after that, he mostly moved too quickly to be hit again. He came flying in for a rebound slam of a Rasheed Wallace miss. He took an alley-oop and smashed that home. At one point, he had a wide-open jumper, hesitated, waited until his defender came over, backed in on him, then spun away for the same basic shot he had passed up — and it was all net!

I used to hear that Larry Bird got occasionally bored with his offensive excellence and would make things harder just to challenge himself.

When Ben Wallace starts doing that, we’ve reached a special moment.

“My plan was to attack the basket,” Wallace said after the win. “In the past, when we played (the Pacers) they really hadn’t been guarding me.”

Uh, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. Wallace had a double-double by halftime. He began the third quarter with a steal and a fast break (isn’t that guard work?) He followed with a beautiful spin move on the baseline that left his defender helpless. He finished with 15 rebounds, 15 tries at the free-throw line, four steals and a block.

“He was an indomitable force,” Carlisle said.

It wasn’t just Ben, of course. It was Prince fighting for rebounds like a guy twice his weight — which would make him, what, 200 pounds? — and Chauncey handling the point with easy speed, and Hamilton (team-high 28 points) doing what he does best, slamming the jumpers and the team accelerator.

And, of course, all of them playing defense.

That’s important. In addition to holding Indiana to 39.5 percent shooting, in addition to holding Reggie Miller to three baskets, in addition to a screeching one-handed block by Rasheed, the Pistons shut down Jamaal Tinsley, a penetrating X factor they didn’t want to ignite. Tinsley (only two points and no assists in the first half) can make things happen with his activity, and the Pistons — like the security forces on hand — wanted as little Indiana activity as possible.

Wall-to-wall excitement

But in the end, all the talk was about Wallace. Honestly, he looked, at times, like a dancer with the Bolshoi. Ok, maybe the biggest dancer. But still a dancer. His footwork was nimble. His touch was deft.

“Aside from making free throws (hey, everyone needs some Kryptonite) he did everything you can possibly expect,” coach Larry Brown said.

Said Wallace: “I always said I didn’t think it was fair to my teammates for me to come down and not look to shoot the basketball.”

Please, Ben. Be more fair.

OK. You may have noticed we’ve reached the home stretch of this column and not a word has been said about violence, alcohol throwing or wild punches. That’s because there wasn’t any. Not even a threat. One thing about ugly fan incidents: They often happen when the home crowd has something to be upset about.

No such opportunity Monday night. Here is how good the Pistons were. Hamilton, in the third quarter, had a fast break — yes, another one — and he jammed it so hard the ball hit him on the way through the net and popped back out through the cylinder.

So they actually gave away points.

And still won.

Ben goes wild. Pistons go up. No one got arrested, and nothing went ka-boom. It was a great night for Detroit fans.

I just wish someone would tell me who those two teams were.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com”

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