Sixers won, but Detroit still confident

April 21, 2008 5:27:39 PM PDT
The Detroit Pistons are down and being doubted, which is a plus and a problem for an enigmatic team as they idle for two days after blowing a 15-point lead in Game 1 to the Philadelphia 76ers. "I thought the mood was good today," Detroit coach Flip Saunders said after Monday's practice. "Things haven't changed - we still need to win four games."

That was exactly what Philadelphia coach Maurice Cheeks expected to hear from the Pistons.

"We know they aren't going to get rattled," Cheeks said. "They've been in every situation, and we're still finding our way."

The Pistons - who have at least reached the Eastern Conference finals the past five years - trail only the San Antonio Spurs in playoff experience, while Philadelphia has the fewest combined games of postseason experience.

"We've been here before," Richard Hamilton said. "A lot of guys on that team, it's their first time."

That fact became moot because of Detroit's uninspired play at the start of each half and the Sixers' relentless and athletic players.

"They came out and played harder than us," Hamilton acknowledged.

The Pistons played well enough in stretches to lead 62-47 midway through the third quarter, but failed to stop the Sixers from rallying. Philadelphia went on a 10-0 run to get back in the game and took the lead midway through the fourth for the first time since late in the first quarter.

Detroit missed makable attempts - not to mention free throws - and the Sixers made just enough stops and shots to pull off the biggest upset in an opening game of a series during this postseason, with a 90-86 victory.

"Everyone's shocked," Antonio McDyess said in Detroit's locker room after the game. "A couple guys came in here and stared around and looked at each other because we were in disbelief."

The Pistons probably wish they only had one day off before hosting Game 2, but the Sixers are glad to have two before Wednesday night's matchup.

"That was an emotional game for us, so the extra day helps us get that joy out of our system and get focused again," Cheeks said.

Detroit was eliminated in the last two series that it dropped Game 1.

The Miami Heat won the opener of the 2006 Eastern Conference finals and eliminated the Pistons in Game 6. San Antonio won the first two games of the 2007 NBA finals, then won the title in Game 7.

The Pistons hadn't lost a playoff opener since the Tracy McGrady-led Orlando Magic beat them in 2003. Detroit ended up digging a 3-1 hole before advancing to its first of five straight trips to the conference finals.

The rare rally built confidence in a cocky team, which seems to play up to its potential only when trailing in a series or hearing doubts from critics.

Jason Maxiell said the Pistons have to do everything they can to avoid a two-game deficit when the series shifts to Philadelphia.

"We have to take care of home," Maxiell said. "They hit us in the mouth in the fourth quarter and beat us.

"Now, we've got to hit them early and let them know that we are still the Detroit Pistons and that this is still our series."

The Sixers originally planned to go home during the two-day break between the games, but opted to stay in suburban Detroit and practice at The Palace.

Reggie Evans is glad they did.

"That's good because we're still real humble," Evans said. "We don't have all the fans in Philly telling us how good we are."