To a man, the Pistons agree that Jason Maxiell has been great coming off the bench. The third-year power forward from the University of Cincinnati has given his team an immeasurable boost throughout the regular season and playoffs.
"No. 1, he's a player who is a high-, high-, high-energy-type player," said Pistons coach Flip Saunders during yesterday morning's shootaround at Emerson College prior to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"He's brought to the team what he's brought all year long and since he's been here," said teammate Tayshaun Prince. "He's brought a lot of energy. He brings a lot of energy on both ends, especially defensively. He's undersized but he does a lot of great things with his length and his quick jumping ability."
Funny thing is, Maxiell, at 6 feet 7 inches, 260 pounds, is considered undersized by NBA standards. By any measure, though, he has come up huge for the Pistons.
"He gives us different looks," Saunders said. "Maybe he's a little undersized, but he's a little bit similar to Ben Wallace when Ben Wallace played for us. He's got great energy, he's tenacious as far as getting on the glass, takes charges, and does a lot of the little things.
"I thought that over the course of the season his offense has improved," Saunders added. "His ability to score, as far as being down on the block, definitely improved."
Were it not for those attributes, the Pistons could very well have arrived in Boston for Game 5 staring at a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series.
Instead, the Pistons knotted up the series in Game 4 Monday night, as Maxiell had 14 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 devastating block that denied Kevin Garnett a breakaway dunk.
"Well, I saw him in transition ahead of me and decided not to give him an easy layup," Maxiell said. "I decided it was a perfect time to block a shot."
While the rest of the team may have adopted a no-layup policy, Maxiell seemed to take it a step further by enforcing his no-dunk policy.
"He challenges shots," Prince said. "He doesn't give up anything easy, but more importantly he fights in the paint and really makes them take tough shots. He doesn't like to give up easy baskets."
Which, of course, makes going up against Maxiell a difficult proposition. He's quick and athletic enough to defend and recover on the help side, and has enough offensive skill to score when called upon. "Our opponents' [defensive] mind-set is to focus on Chauncey [Billups], Rip [Hamilton], Tay [Prince]," Maxiell said after Game 4. "So if the shot is there, I knock it down. If not, I go to the boards."
And that's where Maxiell does most of his damage. This season, Maxiell showed improvement in almost every statistical category, including points per game (7.9 from 5.0), rebounds per game (5.3 from 2.8), free throw percentage (63.3 from 52.6), and blocks per game (1.1 from 0.9).
"I think his defensive energy gives our team a lift and, when we're home, gives our crowd a lift," Saunders said. "Jason, what he does, he just plays hard."
Saunders got no arguments there.
"He's been able to help us in many ways," Prince said of Maxiell. "He's definitely unique at coming off the bench; a guy who has that type of energy and that type of flow to his game. That's why he's been able to succeed with us in the playoffs, because he's been able to bring that energy off the bench. That's what our young guys do a good job of."
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.