AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The Detroit Pistons needed someone to take over against the Indiana Pacers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Unfortunately, no one did.
If there s one thing holding back the Pistons from becoming a legitimate NBA title threat, it s their glaring lack of a dominant player.
It s the playoffs, not the regular season, and, lo and behold, the Pistons don t have anyone who can carry the team on his back and make everyone and everything better.
When the Pistons are going good - I mean really, really good - they can almost make you believe the Lakers can be had in the finals. They really can.
But it s those times like last night - when the Pistons struggled to make a simple layup and opened the game with all the intensity of a bump on a log - that make coach Larry Brown crazy with frustration.
The Pistons can t take a mulligan on last night s crushing 83-68 loss at the Palace. They can only look ahead to Game 5 tomorrow.
Who are the real Pistons?
Is it the team that won Games 2 and 3 of the series with a stifling defense and balanced scoring?
Or is it the group of impostors wearing white uniforms who absorbed a 15-point butt-whipping on their home court?
“If I look at this game, I m going to stick my head in the sand,” Brown said. “We can t play any worse than we did tonight.”
In case you haven t noticed, the Pistons aren t the Lakers.
They can t afford to take a game off - or even five minutes - because they don t have a Shaquille O Neal or a Kobe Bryant.
They re not talented or poised enough to beat Indiana - the No. 1 seed in the East - by simply showing up.
“We came out with no energy,” Brown said. “We weren t ready to play.”
Said shooting guard Richard Hamilton, Detroit s leading scorer in the playoffs: “In the games that we won, we were the ones doing all the hitting. They hit us first.”
So how did two of Detroit s so-called franchise players perform last night? Neither player looked like a star.
Rasheed Wallace? Played a game-high 41 minutes. Scored 10 points on 5-of-19 shooting.
Coming off a 20-point performance in Game 3, Rasheed was a non-factor. He looked more like a complimentary player than the franchise player management wants him to be.
Ben Wallace? Did his usual yeoman s work on the boards, grabbing a game-high 19 rebounds. But he scored only one point.
The Pistons don t pay Ben for his offense. But a single free throw in 40 minutes in Game 5 of the conference finals is unacceptable.
With small forward Tayshaun Prince taking the collar, Detroit s starting front-court combined for 11 points.
Hamilton? Needed 24 shots to score a game-high 22 points while Indiana s Reggie Miller scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting.
Chauncey Billups? Scored 21 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but he s the point guard, remember? Billups point guard numbers weren t so good: five assists, five turnovers.
Said Hamilton, “We ve got to figure out a way to share the ball.”
If not, the Pistons could find themselves in a world of hurt.