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More of a return trip-up: Pistons edge Bulls
Blame Michael Jordan.
Blame Bill Laimbeer too. You can even blame Dennis Rodman twice since he played for both teams.
Anybody wondering why, despite all of Ben Wallace's accomplishments here, the Palace of Auburn Hills crowd of 22,076 booed Wallace lustily at every opportunity need only remember the Bulls-Pistons rivalry.
Deep-seated and real, from the Bad Boys-era to Sunday, the dislike dominates all.
The Pistons' pulsating 95-93 comeback victory did little to douse the intensity of this series, supercharging an emotional day for Wallace with a taut affair that featured playoff intensity throughout.
When Ben Gordon's good look on a three-pointer from directly in front of Detroit's bench rimmed out at the buzzer, the Bulls had blown a 16-point, third-quarter lead, not to mention an opportunity to make an Eastern Conference statement.
"To cough the game up in the third quarter with some of the plays we made, there's no excuse at this level," coach Scott Skiles said. "We can't keep saying we have young players. At some point, we need to develop some poise. It's costing us too many games."
Fittingly, Detroit scored its winning points on Chris Webber's putback with 2.2 seconds remaining after Chris Duhon defended Chauncey Billups tightly on a 16-foot jumper.
P.J. Brown, otherwise brilliant with 19 points and 12 rebounds, made initial contact trying to block out Webber, then lost his balance, allowing Webber to grab one of Detroit's staggering 21 offensive rebounds.
Skiles called Jason Maxiell's seven-rebound second half a turning point for Detroit, which was led by Richard Hamilton's 22 points. Webber had 21 points and nine rebounds. Six came in the third quarter, when Detroit trimmed a 65-49 deficit into a 69-67 nail-biter heading into the fourth. The Pistons scored the final 12 points of the quarter, including a free throw by Billups after official James Capers called Wallace for a technical foul for arguing.
Wallace's emotion was palpable, from his hand-waving to egg on even more boos to him screaming at a courtside fan who was riding him loudly about being greedy to shut up.
"Ain't nothing like a good cheer or a good boo," Wallace said. "I wanted them to get louder. It really doesn't bother me that much. I'm not a Piston anymore. I'm a Bull, the enemy, the foe. They're not going to show you much love."
The Bulls had seized their large lead with a 25-5 run that stretched from the end of the second quarter into the third. Skiles went ballistic after a no-call on Antonio McDyess defending Wallace, drawing a technical. After Billups drained that, the Bulls went to work.
Brown and Luol Deng scored six points apiece. Gordon, who led the Bulls with 21 points in 26 foul-plagued minutes, capped the run with six straight points.
After the third-quarter meltdown, the Bulls trailed 93-86 with 1:50 remaining. Gordon, scoreless in the fourth to that point, went on a personal 7-0 run that included a three-pointer and two free throws with 15 seconds left to tie the game.
"We played a good game," Skiles said. "Our guard play in the third when we had to take Gordon out because of foul trouble looked a little panicked. That cost us."
Added Wallace: "We had control
and let it slip away."
For all the emotion surrounding his return, Wallace played a somewhat quiet game with six points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. Then again, those numbers jibe well with a debate Skiles undertook before the game: How much is fair to expect of Wallace?
"I would say criticism is unfair because of all the things he does," Skiles said. "He's one of the top offensive rebounders in the league. He's the only big man listed in the steals chart at all. He leads our team in steals, in blocks, in deflections, in rebounding. What's the guy supposed to do?
"Although I do realize there always is an expectation: We're a 47-win team, we have money in free agency, we go out and sign a guy, boom, we're supposed to win the whole thing right away. He knows what he's doing. He knows how to get himself ready. He knows what time of year he's needed the most. I think he's turning it up at the right time."
Therein lies the rub. Has Wallace been pacing himself, pulling a Shaquille O'Neal, so to speak, only to turn it on down the stretch? Wallace said no. But the difference in his energy level after the All-Star break has been noticeable.
"I think if people are watching and making that judgment, I can't say that's unfair," Skiles conceded. "On nights we feel like he hasn't had it, we've taken him out and gone with other people in the fourth quarter and talked to Ben about it and he's been receptive. But I also do know what it's like to be an over-30 player in this league. You know the more significant times. It's not that you're pacing yourself. But he's
set the standard very high for himself."
Skiles then went on to talk about effective outlet passes Wallace makes and backcourt pressure he applies as further argument that not all his contributions appear in box scores.
"He deserves time to get adjusted," Skiles said.
Wallace took little time to do so on this trip, eating dinner with former teammates Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Ronald Dupree. Billups, Wallace said, "had to do that Daddy thing he signed up for."
Such good-natured ribbing defines the bond Wallace shares with his former teammates, who returned the love the Pistons crowd failed to show.
Trash-talking throughout the game brought laughs and smiles in times when the intensity dipped. Rasheed Wallace, again, jokingly slipped Ben Wallace a headband during pregame warmups.
Ben Wallace, introduced first and in special fashion by a public-address announcer who thanked him for his accomplishments, then went out and got booed. And beaten, which gave his former Pistons teammates the last word.
"I told him to take that butt-whupping and go home," Billups said.