Tonight the Miami Heat travel to Detroit, looking to close out the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals.
To hear the media tell it, this is an upset of epic proportions. A shocking turn of events. A monumental story. To the average pundit, expert, and fan, we are on the verge of seeing the “mighty” Pistons eliminated from the playoffs. Fire up the word processor!
Stories are flying left and right as people scramble for an explanation. Detroit is too reliant on its offense this year. The players are giving up on the coach. Flip Saunders can’t coach in the playoffs. They got too cocky. They are worn out from three years of extended seasons. On and on it goes.
How about this for an explanation: the Detroit Pistons were never as good as you thought they were.
If you take a snapshot of the last three years, “Deeeeeee-troit Bas-ket-ball!” looks pretty good. A title, followed by an NBA Finals appearance, topped off with a franchise record 64 wins in the 2005-2006 regular season and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s not a dynasty or anything, but it is a nice run all the same. It is the type of run that says, “this is a very good, maybe great, team.” Again, that is the snapshot.
A closer look reveals something else entirely. Rather than give you the punch line, let me walk you through all of Detroit’s success from the past three seasons.
2004 – This was the title run. The year of “play the right way” and the midseason acquisition of Rasheed Wallace that somehow gave Joe Dumars a lifetime free pass for taking Darko Milicic ahead of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. The snapshot reveals a mighty Detroit team that vanquished the Lakers in five games in the NBA Finals. Not so fast. For starters, Detroit reached the Finals by coming out of an Eastern Conference that still had an “L” in its name, for “Leastern.”