March 7, 2008
Wednesday night’s loss to the Boston Celtics seems to be resonating with some as an indictment of the Detroit Pistons and their quest to seal their legacy by winning a second NBA title in five years.
ESPN’s Chris Sheridan — who’s harbored an obvious bias against the Pistons ever since last year’s incident with Rasheed Wallace — used this opportunity to declare that Boston is definitively the better team, no questions asked. Boston Celtics blogs were, understandably, abuzz after their team secured the regular-season series, two games to one, over a Pistons team that’s been the measuring stick of success in the Eastern Conference for the past half decade.
Here’s what I (as an admitted life-long Pistons fan) think, in a nutshell: in a head-to-head matchup with Detroit, the Boston Celtics have done nothing more than prove, in the regular season, that they are just as good as, if not slightly better than, the Pistons. That’s pretty impressive, though, and somewhat surprising. While I may not care for their overzealous post-game celebrations or amateurish jersey-popping, I give them all the credit in the world as an excellent defensive squad with loads of cagey veteran savvy and a cadre of superstar players who can get it done in crunch time. Young Rajon Rondo has not backed down from Chauncey Billups (though Billups will win that one-on-one matchup every time, for now), and the Celtics bench has played their respective roles well. Doc Rivers seems to even be coaching a good game.
Chauncey Billups Photo Credit: Icon SMI
They’ve been better than I thought they’d be, and they’re going to be a headache to deal with in the postseason. They are very capable of besting Detroit in the postseason. But let’s be real: anyone who claims they can definitively call Boston “better” than Detroit, who says the Celtics will “definitely” beat the Pistons in a seven-game playoff series based on what we’ve seen so far, is full of horseshit. Do Spurs fans call their team definitively better than the, say, Lakers if/when they beat them? Or the Mavericks when they beat the Suns? Jazz when they beat the Nuggets? Of course not.
The fact is that these teams have played three incredibly heated, closely contested regular-season games, two of which Boston won, one which Detroit won. Neither has dominated. Both can point to positives in their matchup, and both can point to trouble spots. The Cleveland Cavaliers employ the one man who could realistically beat both of these teams almost single-handedly, but if there’s any justice in this year’s playoffs, we’ll all be treated to an Eastern Conference Finals pitting Boston against Detroit. Then and only then can anybody sit back and talk about which team is actually better.
More on the Boston/Detroit discussion, and a Pistons’ beat writer talks about the team’s “sense of entitlement,” after the jump…
There is one thing, however, one nagging criticism of these Detroit Pistons that hasn’t gone away these past few seasons, when by many counts they squandered two more trips to the NBA Finals and perhaps another ring or two: a sense of entitlement. That they’ve been there, that they’ve won it all when they were there, and maybe you shouldn’t forget that. It bothers me, and it pains me to admit it, but to some degree it’s true. And it’s something that could come back to bite them in the postseason when the calls aren’t going their way (it happens to every team at some point) and they think those whistles should be favoring them simply because they’re the Detroit Pistons.
Look, I think this criticism is given way too much gravity for the most part. This is an incredibly talented, hard-working, generally unassuming group of players that’s a lot of fun to watch (on most nights) and easy to root for. There are no egos on this roster, everyone (usually) understands their role, and they don’t care about personal glory or padding one’s boxscore… an altogether rare quality in today’s NBA. But it is a valid criticism, and one they need to acknowledge and eradicate. And they can. If they want to.
In his Detroit News Pistons blog, beat writer Chris McCoskey today wrote about how this sense of entitlement hurt them on Wednesday night in Boston, and how it could ultimately sink ‘em in the postseason. We’ve published an excerpt:
My wish for the Pistons is this: Lose the sense of entitlement. You haven’t won anything in three seasons. I love your confidence. I even love your arrogance, when it’s put to positive use — like when you give up 41 points in the first quarter to Seattle and still know, without a doubt, that you are coming back and winning that game. Love that.
But with 20 games left, I want to see you put that chip back on your shoulder. I want to see you get that underdog mentality going again, that us-against-the-world thing you had in 2004. Back in 2004, if you saw Steve Javie and Marc Davis were working a big game, it would galvanize you. “We ain’t going to let those guys beat us.” Now, you see them, like you did in Boston, and it’s like, “Darn, they are going to stick it to us again.” Then it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy when Rasheed Wallace gets into early foul trouble and Boston gets a favorable whistle down the stretch.
Right now, Boston and Cleveland are playing better basketball than you are. They are playing with more passion and with more fury. There is no reason for them to be hungrier than you. Your legacy is at stake. Either you are going down as one of the great teams of all time or you are going down as a one-hit wonder. You have 20 games to get yourselves right.