76ers not surprised by series lead

April 26, 2008 7:44:38 PM PDT
Andre Miller has one more playoff win in three games with Philadelphia than he ever did in any of his other three previous postseason series. With the 76ers holding a 2-1 lead over Detroit in their first-round series, Miller is only two victories away from advancing to the second round for the first time in his nine-year career.

Yes, the 76ers. The seventh seed. The same team that was 18-30 and figured to be watching the playoffs on TV is two wins away from knocking off the favored and more experienced Pistons.

And they took the lead in the most improbable way: They thrashed the Pistons from start-to-finish and led by as many as 24 points in a 95-75 Game 3 victory. No wonder the 76ers were all smiles at Saturday's practice.

"It feels pretty good, but it don't last long," Miller said.

No it doesn't, especially against Detroit. The Pistons already bounced back once from one loss in this series with a convincing victory, and nobody on the Sixers believed Detroit would commit 25 turnovers or miss 16 straight shots again in Sunday's Game 4.

The Pistons did everything wrong and easily played their worst game of the season - and know they did.

"You hope it doesn't happen in a big game like that," coach Flip Saunders said.

The Pistons could be in more trouble, though, if they have to play without starting forward Antonio McDyess. McDyess returned to Detroit on Saturday and had surgery to repair the broken nose he sustained in the third quarter in Game 3. Saunders said McDyess' availability for Sunday would depend on how he felt after surgery.

"You want your main guy in there, his toughness and his will," said guard Chauncey Billups.

Billups is averaging only 11.3 points in the first three games after he scored 17.0 per game in the regular season. Billups, McDyess and Rasheed Wallace combined for just 15 points on Friday, and the Pistons might have lost by 30 or more had Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince not had strong offensive games.

Wallace was limited to a measly two points on 1-for-6 shooting and was whistled for a technical foul in the third when the Pistons completely unraveled.

"We still know we can win it," Wallace said. "It's just a matter of digging down."

The Sixers never stopped fighting in Game 1 and rallied to win after trailing by 15 points, but the Pistons seemed to concede defeat early Friday and all five starters were pulled. The playoff-tested Pistons appeared worn down by the youthful, energetic and suddenly supremely confident Sixers.

"If we can match their intensity and their energy, I think our chances are better," Billups said.

The Sixers used all that energy to turn their season around and become perhaps the top second-half surprise in the NBA. The 2-1 lead isn't a real shock, but their complete domination on Friday was totally unexpected.

"It's a good thing I'm playing with some young guys that are hungry and energized and want to take advantage of the opportunity," Miller said. "Normally, experience plays a factor so we just have to be prepared for it."

The Sixers have played without any postseason jitters, which might have been expected from a team with only a combined 95 games of playoff experience. Miller's three Denver teams lost 4-1 each time.

The Pistons have 10 players on their roster with a combined 678 games of postseason experience.

They also know how to come back for series deficits: They rallied from 3-1 down to knock off Orlando in 2003 with three current starters (Prince, Billups, Hamilton) playing key roles.

"I keep trying to make our players aware of situations they've been in, and they've been around a long time and they have the capability of coming back," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "I keep trying to make our players aware of the things that Detroit can do."

One way the Sixers could keep the homecourt edge and take a commanding series lead would be a breakout performance from regular-season leading scorer Andre Iguodala. The star forward had another off night in Game 3, scoring only 10 points on 2-for-9 shooting from the field. He's an awful 7-for-33 in the series.

"It'll come, the next game or the game after that," Iguodala said. "The team hasn't needed me to score."

Cheeks can't take the chance the 76ers can stave off the Pistons much longer without help from Iguodala.

"At some point we've got to get Andre going, but I still liked his floor game," he said.

The Pistons believe they'll bounce back, too, bringing the effort and energy needed to win and show their miserable Game 3 was nothing more than a one-game aberration.

"I'm never doubting us at all," Wallace said. "Never doubting us."