John Hollinger’s recent tweet – “One more for @sportsguy33 asterisk list: ’04 Pistons. Nets, Pacers, Lakers all had key injuries against them” – has raised the hackles of Detroit Bad Boys’ Mike Payne and Pistons by the Numbers’ Ben Gulker, a couple Pistons bloggers who I think typically do a very good job.
Starting with a compliment? Bet you can see where I’m going.
First, some context. Bill Simmons ranked “the 20 most fortunate breaks an NBA champion ever received,” explaining the premise:
A basketball season always features collateral damage, whether it’s injuries, lucky breaks or someone stupidly assaulting a fire extinguisher. Asterisks should be saved for fishier achievements like Bonds’s 73 homers, Roger Clemens’s last few Cy Youngs and Pia Zadora winning a Golden Globe. A "footnote title" respects the champion while also acknowledging that, "Look, SOMETHING funky happened and you can’t discuss that postseason in detail without mentioning that one funky thing."
Hollinger’s tweet followed that.
Again, in context: The whole idea of the discussion – which I find pointless, though maybe fun* – is that Simmons still “respects the champion.” If Hollinger is following that lead, I think it would stand to reason he does, too.
*Simmons’ whole premise is sort of silly, which he basically admits. If he wanted to, he could’ve come up with footnotes for every championship team. They’re fun to discuss, but they don’t make a championship less meaningful.
Before we go further, it’s worth pointing out that Hollinger is right. The Pistons benefited from injuries. I don’t think that takes away from the Pistons’ title – their training staff deserves credit for keeping everyone healthy, and unlike their opponents, they didn’t rely on as many older players – but Hollinger is right.
The star point guard has struggled with a knee injury, and there has been speculation that his back hurts, too. But Kidd refused to talk about his injuries during the series — or after.
Jermaine O’Neal reported to yesterday’s morning shoot-around complaining of increased swelling in his left knee.
Considering him more gimpy than go-to, Indiana rarely worked the ball inside and O’Neal finished with 11 points on 10 shots while battling pain, foul trouble and a bulky knee brace.
Indiana played at far less than full strength, with Jamaal Tinsley still battling several injuries in his left leg and taking multiple trips to the locker room. Backup point guard Anthony Johnson played with the stomach flu.
But O’Neal, an All-NBA second-team selection who finished third in balloting for Most Valuable Player this season, is the fuel for the Pacers’ racecar.
He originally sprained his left knee in the first quarter of Indiana’s Game 4 victory on Friday. But he returned to contribute 12 points and 13 rebounds in 38 minutes and felt so confident about his injury on Saturday that he declared it a "non-issue."
Then came yesterday.
"It’s an injury," O’Neal said. "It takes away some of your mobility. It won’t get better overnight, so I’ll have to find a way to deal with it. This series isn’t over."
Adding to the intrigue were conflicting stories by Carlisle and O’Neal, the former saying the swelling required the draining of fluids and the latter denying that.
This much is clear: O’Neal didn’t get enough touches for 38 minutes of action.
Again, this shouldn’t take away from Detroit’s title. Every championship team receives some degree of luck, and this is the area where the Pistons caught a break.
This also isn’t Hollinger’s anti-Detroit bias. He hasn’t been shy about complimenting those Pistons, like he did the year before their championship:
So the Pistons don’t have the superstar talent we’re used to seeing in conference championship teams. They’re built more on the lines of recent deep, big teams like Indiana or Portland. David Stern is probably praying they don’t make it to the Finals; selling viewers on a team with 10 interchangeable parts tends to go against the league’s marketing M.O.
But with the emergence of Prince at small forward and Okur up front, these Pistons are the best team in the East. I didn’t believe it all season. But after Friday, there’s not a doubt in my mind.
Bear in mind that PER is not the final, once-and-for-all evaluation of a player’s accomplishments during the season. This is especially true for defensive specialists — such as Quinton Ross and Jason Collins — who don’t get many blocks or steals.
It’s just Hollinger giving another example of a team that caught a break on its way to a championship. The 2004 Pistons, in that regard, were just like the title teams before and after them. I don’t think it cheapens their accomplishment to admit that.