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Published: Thursday, 4/24/2003

Pistons tough when they hit on all cylinders

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - For a baffling 48 minutes, the Detroit Pistons looked suspiciously like a team that wasn't ready for the NBA playoffs to begin.

The Pistons couldn't locate their rhythm and forced shots on offense. They sat back on defense and let Orlando Magic scoring machine Tracy McGrady beat them almost single-handedly in a disappointing Game1 loss.

But after two days of tough practices and soul-searching, Pistons coach Rick Carlisle turned his angry and embarrassed players loose on the Magic last night at the Palace.

Orlando learned what Carlisle already knew: The Pistons are difficult to deal with when they're on top of their game.

Detroit 89, Orlando 77.

Of the top playoff seeds, the Pistons were tabbed nationally as the one most likely to be eliminated early. After falling behind 0-1, many experts surely were saying: “Told you so.” But by the end of Game2, the Pistons had proven they were playoff-ready.

The Pistons' renewed commitment to better basketball resulted in an optimistic outlook for the rest of their Eastern Conference opening-round series.

There were fewer signs of the ragged play that caused Detroit's flameout Sunday. The Pistons' offense was crisp and balanced.

Five Pistons scored in double figures. Detroit outrebounded Orlando 47-30 and held the Magic to 39.7 percent shooting.

Detroit's starting backcourt - Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups - canned 17 of 30 shots, grabbed 15 rebounds and totaled six assists. Hamilton led the Pistons with 30 points. All-Star Ben Wallace scored 10 points, swept a game-high 16 rebounds and blocked four shots. Sixth man Corliss Williamson, on seven-of-eight shooting from the free-throw line, scored 13 points.

Not many teams have an answer for Detroit's offense when it operates as cohesively as it did last night. The Pistons' ball movement was beautiful, manufacturing 20 assists for their 31 baskets.

Detroit opened the game with a Wallace dunk and three-point play. The Pistons shot 57 percent and led 32-14 after one quarter.

Carlisle and his players contend that the Pistons were hurt by poor shooting in Sunday's 99-94 loss. This isn't a bad offensive team, they say. There's nothing wrong with the offense that a good shooting game won't cure, they say.

Detroit shot 32 percent in Game1. The Pistons shot 42 percent last night, a 10 percent improvement.

But it was really Detroit's defense that won the game. Orlando connected on just 27-of-68 shots.

What the Pistons did to a very good, very hot Orlando team led by McGrady was impressive.

The Pistons presented McGrady with more double teams than he faced in Game 1. Carlisle also put 6-9 rookie Tayshaun Prince on the 6-8 McGrady in the second half.

Nobody stops McGrady, who scored a game-high 46 points after putting up 43 points Sunday. McGrady, though, had to work harder to get open, especially when the long-armed Prince was shadowing him. And the Pistons held Drew Gooden to four points after the rookie exploded for 18 points and 14 rebounds in Game 1.

They moved the ball on offense, took high-percentage shots and played killer defense. Just in time, the Pistons remembered who they were.



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