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Tuesday, May 4, 2004
Even too much of a good thing ...

By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com

After his team had held the New Jersey Nets to the second-lowest point total in NBA playoff history in a 78-56 victory, Detroit's Richard Hamilton noted, "We wanted to come out and make a statement."

Fellas, consider it done.

And now, brought to you by Col. Kurtz, that statement in full: The ... horror! The ... horror!

I woke up last night in a cold sweat, flush and clammy with the sudden realization that the Detroit Pistons might play the San Antonio Spurs for the NBA title this season. Is it possible to completely respect two basketball operations while praying to the hoops gods that they don't come anywhere near each other?

You're looking at tremendous lock-down defense. You're looking at no second-chance points. You're looking at great switching schemes and block-out techniques that would make Pete Carril proud, and ball control, and deliberation, and ... Zzzzzzz.

Sorry, dozed off for a moment there. But the larger point is this: You're looking at something the NBA had bloody well hope it never fully becomes.

Ben Wallace and Tim Duncan
Watching the Pistons and Spurs lock up each other on D would be like watching paint dry.
David Stern must be turning over in his grave. Where are the Kentucky Colonels when you need them? The Pistons have turned defensive grinding into an art form; alas, it's Jackson Pollock. Admirable without always veering toward the actually likeable.

As a basketball team, the Pistons command your respect almost entirely. They play hard; they generally play very smart; they added Rasheed Wallace during the season without totally screwing up everything Larry Brown was trying to do, which is maybe a dozen times more complicated than it sounds.

But their games are borderline unwatchable, a throwback to a day we all hope never existed. Detroit's habit of stepping on an opponent's windpipe from the first quarter forward makes for a devastating game plan and, generally speaking, the four most dreadful quarters any viewer could fear to locate on his satellite dish, the greater Michigan area duly excluded. (Ben Wallace with the rebound. Ben Wallace with the rebound. Ben Wallace with the rebound.)

It's the age-old prejudice against tenacious D that is rising up here, and let me be the first to go on the record in full support of that prejudice. I love the run and gun; sue me. The up-and-down-the-court action makes for higher final scores, sure, but more specifically it makes for a more overtly athletic game.

I don't need SportsCenter highlights nearly as much as I need the kinetics. If I want to see a bunch of guys standing around waiting for something to happen, I've got all summer at the ballyard.

Maybe the Nets can do something about it before this series goes much further, but Detroit's recent history of stifling defensive performances argues otherwise. New Jersey's players said afterward that their 27 percent field goal shooting was largely the result of missing open jumpers, but there weren't a plethora of uncontested shots out there.

Detroit is like the Hulked-up version of the Spurs. Out West, where defense is something that happens from time to time while teams are busy getting ready to jack up their next trey, San Antonio looms as an almost contradictory presence. The Spurs can run, but they'd rather grind. They can get up and down, but they'd just as soon slow that pace, steady that pace, whip that ball around the perimeter, look for that open man, look for that open man ... Zzzzzzz.

And, look, the Spurs are the total package. It's almost impossible not to develop a strong appreciation for Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and the lads, for a team that rounded itself into playoff form in an almost perfectly timed run-up to the postseason, getting better as the schedule went deeper into March and April.

The Pistons and Spurs are two of the league's best stories. Detroit shucked its coach, Rick Carlisle, then adjusted so well, so quickly to what Brown wanted to run that the Pistons face the very real possibility of meeting Carlisle's new team, the Indiana Pacers, in the Eastern Conference finals. The Spurs won an NBA title and then said goodbye to an absolute foundational player, David Robinson -- yet here they stand again in springtime, looking for all the world like a roster ready to make another charge to the top.

And they could make it. Detroit could make it. The Spurs and the Pistons could reach the NBA Finals this season, and there isn't anyone in the world who could say they didn't deserve to get there. And your final score: 70-68.

The ... horror.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.