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Dan Shaughnessy

Pistons keep on churning

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 27, 2008

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Here's how it looks from the other side:

These Pistons are old and good and have won one championship as a group. They drive their fans crazy (sound like any team you know?). They occasionally take the night off. Even in the playoffs. Their coach is named "Flip," which is appropriate because the Pistons flip the switch all the time.

"We give you guys a lot to write about," Flip Saunders said after the Pistons beat the Celtics, 94-75, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals last night. "When we lose a game, we kind of throw one away. No one likes it, the way our personality of our team is."

Halloween should be the official holiday of the Pistons. Trick or treat. They fell behind the Philadelphia 76ers, two games to one, in their first-round series. Last week, Detroit won Game 2 in Boston against the Celtics, then produced a no-show in Game 3 at home. Took the air right out of their own building. It was over before Superfan Bob Seger took his seat in the Palace.

"I think in our first three games, we were outscored, 31-4, at the start," said Saunders. "We have to set the tone early, and if you set the tone early, a lot of times that's how you finish. Our crowd was on their hands the whole time during the last game."

Not in Game 4. The crowd was into it from the opening tap. And the Piston crowd has some big-league hecklers. Taunting Kevin Garnett late in the night, fans behind the Celtics bench chanted, "Timberwolf for life."

Now the Celtics have to come back to Auburn Hills for Game 6 Friday night. Sounds like fun. In the wake of the Lakers' loss in San Antonio Sunday night, David Stern must be talking in his sleep. A Detroit-San Antonio Finals doesn't have the star power of Boston-Los Angeles.

The Pistons don't have a Big Three (Mssrs. Pierce, Garnett, and Allen are going to wish that moniker was never invented if things don't turn around for Boston), but Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, and Rasheed Wallace have been through a lot of playoff wars. Detroit's veteran core probably would have won more than one ring if Sheed weren't a chronic head case. They are a coach's nightmare.

Last night, they felt like playing.

"I think we just played with a great amount of energy," said Saunders. "I think we were locked in. I told the guys before the game that we couldn't be mediocre in any aspect of the game. We had the proper mind-set tonight."

Detroit committed only 9 turnovers. Veteran Antonio McDyess made 8 of 14 shots and snatched 16 rebounds. Hamilton drained 8 of 10 for 20 points. Jason Maxiell came off the bench to score 14 and made a spectacular come-from-behind block of soft-serve Garnett in the first half.

"I decided not to give up, and it was a perfect time to block the shot," said Maxiell.

It didn't matter that Billups (hamstring) was still limited. The Pistons shot 51 percent and held the Celtics to an embarrassing 31 percent. Detroit's biggest lead was its last lead.

"I think tonight was a different story," said McDyess. "I only have so many opportunities. I'm near the end of my career. I was disappointed with the way we lost last year [to Cleveland in the conference finals].

"We definitely couldn't start this game the way we started the last game. I'm fed up with excuses of why we haven't won another championship. We need to go out there and play hard and play to our ability."

"Give them credit," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought they were so much more physical than us the entire game. Every time we got a chance to get to the basket, they threw us down.

"They had a no-layup rule. They decided that they were going to come into this game and they were going to be physical with us, 1 through 5, and I thought they did that."

"There's always so much talk about our team that when things get off edge in a big game, we lose our composure," said Saunders, Detroit's coach-under-siege. "Our guys kept their composure."

The Pistons are 5-0 after playoff losses this year. It's back-to-back wins that have been problematic.

This is a three-game series. And if the Pistons feel like playing, the Celtics could be in trouble. They've already proven they can win in Boston.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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