You thought the Pistons missed the playoffs? Not at PistonPowered.
We’re honoring the 10th anniversary of the 2004 NBA championship team by examining each postseason game on the corresponding 2014 date. We’ll look back at Detroit’s performances, detail our memories of that time and provide insight from the players and coaches who were Goin’ to Work every single night.
So, stick with us this “offseason.” I have a hunch these Pistons will be playing into June.
|Chauncey Billups, PG 34 MIN | 4-15 FG |3-4 FT | 2 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTSThis wasn’t Chauncey’s best game. He missed a ton of shots as he was sometimes prone to do. But he still got the better of his Milwaukee counterparts, most notably by logging six assists and no turnovers to Damon Jones’ and Brevin Knight’s combined ten assists and five turnovers.|
|Richard Hamilton, SG 35 MIN | 5-13 FG | 11-12 FT | 3 REB | 8 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 21 PTSHow do you score efficiently when shooting 5-13? By getting to the line a dozen times. He also led the team in assists and steals as the Pistons set a playoff game franchise record for the latter.|| |
|Tayshaun Prince, SF 36 MIN | 5-12 FG | 3-3 FT | 11 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 4 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTSThe diminutive Prince grabbed five offensive boards to nearly match the entire Milwaukee team’s seven. he was a major part of the reason that the Pistons dominated the Bucks on the glass in spite of having eleven more misses for the Bucks to grab.|| |
|Rasheed Wallace, PF 28 MIN | 7-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 3 BLK | 2 TO | 17 PTSSheed anchored the defense more than Ben in this one and he did a phenomenal job. The Bucks were the fourth highest scoring team in the league and tops in the East. So Detroit allowed them 82 points, slightly below an average Pistons opponent.|| |
|Ben Wallace, C 38 MIN | 8-15 FG | 1-2 FT | 14 REB | 0 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 17 PTSWallace contributed significant offense in this one. Besides five offensive rebounds of his own, he outscored every Buck. Ben also had three steals (two of which led to immediate fast break points) and drew at least three charges.|
|Corliss Williamson, PF 20 MIN | 5-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 12 PTSCorliss brought enough offense off the bench to keep the Bucks from having any hope of sneaking back into this game when Detroit’s A team wasn’t on the floor.|| |
|Lindsey Hunter, PG 17 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTSEarly in the second quarter, the Pistons stole the ball on three of four Milwaukee possessions, all leading to fast break baskets. Hunter was the pickpocket for two of those. Even though he wasn’t credited with either basket or assist, he was the primary cause of those points. Not bad for seven minutes of action.|
|Mehmet Okur, C 9 MIN | 3-4 FG | 2-4 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTSSee Williamson, Corliss.|
|Mike James, PG 10 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 3 PTSJames’ play was completely unremarkable. But since he was really only on the floor to give Billups a breather, that’s not so terrible.|
|Elden Campbell, C 5 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTSCampbell was a stereotypical no-offense big body in the paint. So I’m not sure why he attempted a shot virtually every time he touched the ball.|
|Darvin Ham, SF 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTSHam literally did nothing in this game. He dodged an F by playing so few minutes.|
|Darko Milicic, C 3 MIN | 0-0 FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTSThe human victory cigar didn’t have an opportunity to make an impression one way or the other.|
|Larry Brown, Head Coach |
Brown didn’t have to do much more than roll the ball out in this one. But credit where it’s due for preparing his tam to defensively suffocate Milwaukee in what steadily turned int an easy blowout.
Claiming vindication very early
The Pistons opened the 2004 NBA Playoffs with a thrashing of the Milwaukee Bucks that was so thorough, it was hard not to imagine them as a title contender. For NBA fans who were unfamiliar with them, their dominant Game 1 effort against Milwaukee put their suffocating defense, which had been brutalizing opponents post-Rasheed Wallace-trade, on full display. For me, it was vindication. At the time, I was a student at Oakland University in my second or third senior year (Maybe fourth? I lost count.) I was helping a friend (who would go on to become Paul Kampe of the Oakland Press) as an on-air "talent" for a sports show he was producing despite the fact that I had no interest in seeing myself on TV ever, I had even less charisma than I have now and I was in a phase where I was making some of the most unfortunate facial hair choices in history. Also, the show was about Detroit sports, and the only team I really followed enough to have expertise on was the Pistons, so three out of the four segments of each episode were pretty light on content from my end.
Anyway, the episodes aren’t all online, but you can get a taste with this clip. One of the things I remain proudest of in my short broadcasting career was my adamant stance (despite being mocked by other panelists on the show) that the Pistons defense that season made them legitimate threats to beat anyone and win the title. Game one against the Bucks was a vindication of all of my ‘Pistons as title contenders’ proclamations. The defense? It not only held the Bucks to 82 points, the Pistons only allowed Milwaukee’s main offensive threat, sharp-shooting Michael Redd, to 10 field goal attempts and one three-point attempt. Ben Wallace, who the casual fan only thought of as a defensive specialist/role player and not one of the elite, game-changing stars in the league? He had 17 points, 14 rebounds, 3 steals and a block. And the team’s offense, which critics felt may not be able to score enough? They put up 102 points with six players all reaching double figures and all, at times, serving as focal points of the offense. This was a championship team.
OK, so maybe I shouldn’t have celebrated and claimed vindication so much after one win over a Bucks roster that, looking back, I can’t figure out how they won 20 games, let alone made the playoffs. But for a team like the Pistons that most weren’t yet taking seriously as a title contender, the fact that they opened the playoffs in 2004 with a performance that was not only dominant, it answered every possible question a critic could have about them was a very positive sign going forward.
From the frontlines
When Pistons games began, Mike James and Lindsey Hunter went to work.
Though neither started, they always sat next to each other on the bench and strategized. They examined opposing guards, looking for weaknesses.
That way, when they entered the game, the Pitbulls were ready to pounce.
Hunter and James, acquired midseason from the Celtics in the Rasheed Wallace trade, were both small guards looking for roles in Detroit. Together, they found one as an ultra-aggressive, trapping, defensive terror.
“Larry Brown wasn’t accepting Lindsey and I coming in the game shooting all the balls,” James said. “We already had two shooters in Chauncey and Rip. They were already shooting all the balls.
“So, we understood that in order for us to get points, we had to get steals. So, we just became ball-hawking defenders, and we fed off each other. It wasn’t like individually we were good defensive players, but together collectively, we were even better because we were able to read each other.”
Since, I’ve never seen anything quite like the tandem. Opposing guards actually looked scared to face these two. Reaching the NBA takes so much basketball experience and competence, it’s rare players at this level outwardly panic. But Hunter and James struck fear with their tenacity.
Perhaps, their high-water mark during the playoff run came in Game 1 against the Bucks. Hunter and James might not have been at their absolute best – though I wouldn’t definitively claim they weren’t – but the entire team followed their lead.
Detroit set a franchise playoff record with 14 steals. Five of them, including three by Hunter and one by James, came in the fewer than eight minutes James and Hunter shared the court.
“Our goal was to be just defensive maniacs,” James said. “…We were just hungry little dogs trying to get steals. All we wanted was the ball. We didn’t want nothing else but the ball.”
At some point during the season, James and Hunter picked up the nickname “Pitbulls” or, occasionally, “Palace Pitbulls.” James still remembers the sounds of growling dogs playing through the speakers when they entered games.
I can’t think of a more-fitting moniker. Through sheer determination, James and Hunter impacted games together, truly exceeding the sum of their parts.
Their cohesion extended to a deep friendship off the court. They pranked each other – Hunter pouring popcorn into James’ car, James hiding Hunters’ car – and as they grew closer, so did their families.
Hunter now serves as an assistant coach with the Warriors, and James, who plays for the Bulls, wants to follow his friend into the profession when his playing career ends.
Ten years ago, the seeds of that path were fertilized as they scouted opposing guards from the Pistons’ bench. Between James and Hunter, much more than a career arc was forged.
“That’s my boy to this day,” James said of Hunter. “We were the Pitbulls.”
Don’t overreact to one win, but man, that was encouraging.
The Pistons’ 26-point victory was the largest in any team’s playoff opener in three years. Detroit absolutely began its postseason on the right foot. Seriously, that couldn’t have gone any better.
Still, The Pistons hadn’t swept a playoff series in 14 years, dating back to a 1990.
Let cautious optimism rule the day.
With two days off before Game 2, the Bucks have a chance to regroup. Detroit, on the other hand, can stay loose and confident.
There’s no saying with certainty how this series will unfold, but did you see the New Jersey Nets – Detroit’s potential second-round opponent – pound the Knicks by 24 points the day prior? It would be nice to end this Bucks series quickly and rest before facing the Nets, who swept the Pistons in last season’s conference finals.