Sixers' boarding party puts Pistons at a disadvantage

PHILADELPHIA -- It wasn't until the middle part of the third quarter that the sellout crowd began to get a true fix on what was happening before the fans' very eyes.

They had been watching it, of course, but there seemed to be some sort of collective disbelief in the building, a sense of "This can't really be happening, can it?"

Suddenly, though, that collective skepticism morphed into a sustained roar at the moment Samuel Dalembert outworked Rasheed Wallace to grab one of Philadelphia's 11 offensive rebounds, one of an endless number of hustle plays the Sixers pulled off throughout the night in a 95-75 stunner of a victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night in Game 3 of their first-round series.

"We attacked them just like they attacked us in Game 2," said Dalembert, whose 22-point, 16-rebound effort anchored this unlikeliest of victories, a shellacking that prompted Detroit coach Flip Saunders to mention four separate times in his postgame media conference how he -- not the players -- needed to do a better job of putting his team in position to win.

This was another effort -- or lack thereof -- that left you scratching your head at the Pistons, who received energy and effort from a grand total of just two key players, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, in as lifeless of a playoff performance as they've ever produced. And Hamilton, it should be noted, appeared quite displeased with his coach when he committed his fifth foul and Saunders yanked him for good with 9:37 remaining and Detroit down by 17.

So lifeless were the Pistons, in fact, that Sixers forward Reggie Evans actually called out his buddy Wallace as a "whiner" when the two exchanged enough insults to draw a double technical foul in that pivotal third quarter.

"It was all love, it was all love," Evans said. "I got a lot of respect for him, and he's got a lot of respect for me."

Respect for Wallace's game, however, took a downward spike after this abysmal performance as Sheed missed five of six shots and both of his free throws, committing four fouls and four of Detroit's season-high 25 turnovers. Chauncey Billups was equally bad in missing 9 of 11 attempts, and, as in Game 1, the Pistons got very little from their bench.

The Philadelphia coaching staff made adjustments that allowed the Sixers to keep the ball in Andre Miller's hands more often than they had in Game 2, and Andre Iguodala came up with four steals and handed out six assists to more than make up for another suspect offensive performance.

"These guys are definitely giving us problems, and we have to find a solution to win," said Detroit forward Antonio McDyess, whose nose was broken when he collided with Iguodala early in the game. "Our backs are against the wall right now. This is a [Philly] team that is never going to give up, and we know that. We just have to go out there and match their energy."

It's always about energy -- or a lack thereof -- when it comes to the Pistons and the postseason, and what made this loss so alarming was the absolute void in the hustle department from the fellas from Detroit.

Maybe that's why it was that one hustle play -- Dalembert outworking everyone under the basket to grab that offensive rebound -- that hammered it home to the Philly fans that this game was not going to turn. The crowd came alive and stayed that way while the Pistons were in the midst of a stretch in which they missed 17 consecutive field goal attempts, and a standing ovation began just after the clock ticked inside of the final minute of what had long since turned into garbage time.

"It was a different type of game for us. We hadn't played in this type of atmosphere a lot, and we had to get used to that," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "I told my guys before the game it's like three different facets of the series: The first game was getting our feet wet in the playoffs, the second was trying to withstand a team that we know had been in the playoffs many times, and the third was tonight when we had to learn how to play with the crowd behind us, and we played without any jitters at all."

So now we await Sunday, and as we wonder which Detroit team is going to show up, we also wonder whether too many people are making this series be too much about the Pistons and not enough about the 76ers.

Clearly, Philly is the hungrier team at this point, a truism that has to be making Detroit team president Joe Dumars' blood boil. Just last summer, he was lamenting the fact that his team had been ousted from the conference finals two straight years by teams that simply had more desire than his, and now his team is in a 2-1 hole against an opponent that probably can't help but become emboldened by the one-sided nature of Friday night's game.

Active hands-on defense and extra energy under the boards made the difference in this one, and a similarly lethargic performance from the Pistons in Game 4 undoubtedly will put Saunders on the hot seat heading into Game 5 back in Auburn Hills.

"They're beating us to the punch, and we have to set the tone," Prince said. "That's what you have to do when you're playing a young squad that's playing like they did tonight."

Through three games, the 76ers are playing like the better team -- so much so that the fans actually pulled a page from the Wizards' fans bag of tricks and chanted at the Pistons as the fourth quarter wound down.

And what did they chant?


Who'd have ever thought the Pistons would be taunted like that?

Then again, who ever thought those very same Pistons would be down 2-1 at this point, looking more discombobulated than disinterested.

Well, that's where this series is, and there's going to be plenty more angst in Detroit -- and plenty more cheers of surprise in Philly -- if this keeps up Sunday in Game 4. Stay tuned.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.