Sam Donnellon: Pistons hit; Sixers just miss

Posted: April 24, 2008

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Right where they want them. Yeah, that's it. The Sixers sowed the seeds to a weekend ambush last night, laying down and playing dead for three-plus quarters of a 105-88 playoff loss to the Pistons.

That's all it was. A setup. A plan. Pull up the planks on the Palace floor and lay underneath, as still as mummies. Make it seem as if Game 1 were this little blip. Make the mighty Pistons, the team that makes trips to the conference finals as routinely as the Sixers make it to the NBA lottery, think all their troubles are now over as they head to Philadelphia for two games.

"They not only hit us first,'' Sixers coach Mo Cheeks said after last night's game. "They just continued to hit and hit and hit.''

First it was Rasheed Wallace. Again. Then came Rip Hamilton down the lane and then - well, who the hell has Antonio McDyess? And how in the world did Tayshaun Prince get so alone over there?

Look at all those guys all over Andre Miller. Response? Sammy? Willie? Thaddeus? Reggie?

Say, anyone seen that other Andre?

"What I'll try to do is get him better shots at different spots on the court,'' Cheeks said of Andre Iguodala, the best Sixer so far at playing dead. "I'll try to get him closer to the basket, so he won't have to shoot as many jump shots."

Yeah, that would stink if he had to do that again. Because Iguodala, who was 4-for-15 Sunday night, was 1-for-9 last night, finishing with an incredibly humiliating four points.

Maybe Mo could dress him as Hip Hop tomorrow night.

And roll out a trampoline.

That would get him real close to the basket.

Just a thought.

Or maybe this is part of the plan. Certainly, Cheeks seemed not at all surprised by the schooling his team received last night, saying, "That's what teams that have been to the [NBA] Finals and the Eastern Conference finals do. They do things like that. We're going to have to be able to respond and we will be able to respond in the next game."

In truth, this was the Detroit team Cheeks expected to see Sunday, the one he still spoke of late Sunday night, the one he kept mentioning during the long 3 days his young team spent enjoying the celebrity of its Game 1 shocker.

"I knew they would come back the way they came back,'' he said. "We're trying to get our guys ready to understand that there's got to be another level. Those of us who have been around a long time understand that. And we're trying to get our guys to understand that, to be able to take that hit and respond to that hit."

The Sixers have been good at that this season, especially since rising from the dead in February and March. They have been the tough little kid who doesn't run away when the bully raises his fist. They get punched, they get bloodied, and sometimes, like last night, they get beat up so badly you hardly recognize them.

But they have landed enough shots to make you proud of them, and almost always, the bully walks away with some newfound respect.

They will need at least another victory in this series for that to happen here. So far, all they have really done is kicked the bully in the shins and ran.

"Game 1 was a big wakeup call for us,'' Detroit guard Chauncey Billups said after last night's game. "We learned from it. We know that team can beat us if

we're not playing the right way."

Now it's the Sixers' turn. They will need to find where Iguodala has been hiding. They will need to look less afraid, less tentative than they did last night. Missed layups, forced and rushed shots, a lack of aggression when attacking the basket. Losing concentration as the shot-clock wore down, allowing the Pistons to run their set plays as if against traffic cones.

At times in their Game 1 victory, the young Sixers committed each of these sins. Last night, it went on, nonstop, for three ugly, deflating quarters.

And then the Pistons removed their starters.

They were getting bored.

"What I just told my players is this is where we're trying to get to," Cheeks said of the Pistons' effort. "We're trying to get to where the Pistons have been. We knew they were going to hit like this."

See, they have this thing all mapped out. A little rope-a-dope with the former champ . . . Then, the big weekend ambush.

Yep, right where they want them. *

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