by Brett Edwards
Before we move on to the NBA Finals, we should take a moment to pay our last respects to the Detroit Pistons. Their recent run of dominance seems to have come to an end, and before we move into the era of Lebron vs. Wade in the Eastern Conference, let's stop and recognize the accomplishments of the Pistons over the last four seasons:
- 4 Conference Finals appearances in 4 seasons
- 2 NBA Finals appearances
- 1 NBA Title
The four straight trips to the Conference Finals is impressive, as are the two consecutive trips to the Finals. They were one game from repeating as champs last season, losing a close 7th game in San Antonio. But the crowning achievement of this run remains the 2004 championship.
The Pistons' 2004 NBA Championship was arguably one of the greatest upsets in the history of the league, taking out the heavily favored Shaq/Kobe Lakers in 5 games. This Laker squad retooled by adding veteran Hall Of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to an already stacked team that was knocked off in 2003 by the Spurs. The loss of Malone to injury in the Finals definitely played a part in the Lakers' demise, but the fact that the Pistons used a team approach to beat the superstar heavy Lakers remains an amazing accomplishment.
This season the Pistons ran away from the competition from very early on, winning a league best 64 games during the regular season. In the playoffs, DET still looked like the best team early on. They toyed with a weak Milwaukee team, easily dispatching them in 5 games. They crushed Lebron and the Cavs in Games 1 and 2, although the Cavs made a run late in the second game to make the score respectable.
But then the wheels seemed to come off. Something happened to this Pistons team that they were unable to recover from. They lost their swagger over the course of the series, and were honestly lucky to send it to a Game 7. They pulled away from the Cavs in the second half of that game to advance to the Conference Finals, but were too physically spent and mentally shaken to take out the Heat. They were beaten easily in 3 of the 4 Heat victories, and really didn't look anything like the 64-win team we saw all year. DET missed many wide open shots, and seemed unable to play any solid defense, continually allowing MIA to shoot in the high 50s percentage-wise from the field.
There are many questions for this group heading into the off-season, the biggest of which is Ben Wallace. Will he stay, or cash in elsewhere as a free agent? I'm guessing the latter, and honestly that would be best in the long run for Detroit. Big Ben proved to be an offensive liability in these playoffs, and since DET no longer plays their lock down brand of defense, they can't afford to have someone on the floor who is that bad of an offensive player and free throw shooter. DET also needs to strengthen their bench, as role players Maurice Evans and Lindsey Hunter are not the stuff that champions are made of.
It was a great run Detroit, and we'll miss your style of selfless team basketball and defense in the era of me first superstars and run-and-gun offense. Congrats on building a consistent contender, here's hoping Joe Dumars can put some pieces in place to keep it going just a little longer.