-- Detroit Pistons center Ben Wallace kept saying that he wasn't angry, although he was noticeably snippy Friday afternoon. He repeated that he never gets angry, although his headband-tossing, fourth-quarter outburst led to a game-changing technical foul in Game 1 of the NBA Finals the night before.
Wallace was asked to explain his mood after the defending champion Pistons were shut down by the San Antonio Spurs in an 84-69 loss. His response was short and not-so-sweet: "Sleepy," he said.
Understandably, the Pistons were sleep-deprived after having one of the worst offensive performances in the history of the NBA Finals. They had the fourth-lowest point total in the shot-clock era, shot just 37.7 percent and suffered the most lopsided loss by a defending champion in Game 1 history.
Point guard Chauncey Billups, the only member of the Pistons who had anything going offensively against the Spurs, said he stayed up until 5 a.m. watching a rebroadcast of the game in his hotel room. "I can't sleep good after games, period. But I'm not usually up like that," Billups said. "After the game, it was easy to say we got our butts kicked, but, you know, they got all of the effort plays. Their guys were diving for loose balls. I mean, [the Spurs] played this game very desperate, and we didn't."
The Pistons had hoped to steal Game 1 of this series as they did in last year's Finals against the Lakers. But hope wasn't enough. Richard Hamilton, the team's leading scorer in the playoffs, had 14 points but missed 14 of 21 shots. Rasheed Wallace remained an enigma, blocking a remarkable six shots but taking an unimpressive six shots. And Ben Wallace appeared worn down from guarding Shaquille O'Neal in the previous series, unable to show any signs of life until he boisterously disputed a foul called against him while trying to defend Spurs guard Manu Ginobili.
The Spurs went on a 19-4 run after Ben Wallace's technical foul, but he said that play wasn't the difference. The Spurs "outworked us before that; we got outworked after that," he said, stone-faced.
The Wallaces and reserve forward Antonio McDyess combined to score just 13 points. "That's how it is," Billups said, "but I don't think that we're going to have too many games like that."
As Billups spoke, forward Rasheed Wallace walked past the podium and chimed in, telling Billups to put more bass in his voice. Wallace then grabbed a seat and started playing with his portable video game system. He didn't seem too concerned about Game 1. "There ain't nothing to remember," Wallace said. "It's over with, though. No need to sit up there and dwell on that."
But the Pistons realize that they will have to get the ball inside to Rasheed Wallace more to have any chance of getting back into the series. Wallace has been the Pistons' barometer in the playoffs. If he plays well, the Pistons play well. "We have to make sure we control him," Spurs point guard Tony Parker said.
On the Pistons' first offensive possession, Rasheed Wallace caught the ball inside and dropped a turnaround jumper over Tim Duncan, then he stripped the ball from Duncan on the other end. Wallace was 3 for 3 with six points, four rebounds, two blocks and two steals in the first quarter, when the Pistons jumped to a 17-4 lead.
Then, he didn't look as if he wanted the ball again, and the Pistons guard didn't try to get it to him. He forced one pull-up jumper with the shot clock winding down, and his final attempt got wedged between the rim and the backboard. He finished with six shots. "I think he's one of the top five power forwards in the game of basketball right now, and I think there's no way we can probably win with him only shooting six shots," Hamilton said.
"We need him to score. We know what he gives us defensively, and we know he is our emotional leader," said Billups, who led the Pistons with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting. "When Rasheed is aggressive, we are a lot better."
The Pistons are 4-0 this season and 8-0 overall when Wallace scores at least 20 points in the postseason. "There's times when I only scored two points or no points and we still won," Wallace said, although the Pistons are 1-2 when he scores fewer than 10 points this postseason. "I don't know why a majority of y'all can think that just because I don't score 20 points or if I do score 20 points that decides the whole fate of the Pistons. No, one man don't do it. It's five of us out there."
Billups said he will focus on getting Wallace the ball more in Game 2 but added that his head was spinning on Thursday as he listened to Pistons Coach Larry Brown telling him to feed the ball to Rasheed Wallace while Wallace was telling Billups to post up Tony Parker.
"You know, we had big guys open, sometimes we missed them, but a lot of times I don't think we did enough to demand the ball," Brown said. Spurs forward Bruce Bowen pestered Hamilton the way he did Denver's Carmelo Anthony, Seattle's Ray Allen and Phoenix's Shawn Marion. But Hamilton refused to give Bowen all of the credit. "I got every shot I wanted to get. I think I missed about four or five layups. I think I missed three or four wide-open jump shots, shots that I usually make."
The Pistons haven't won in San Antonio in eight tries, and they can't afford to make it nine on Sunday. The Pistons already face a must-win situation, because only two of 26 teams have rebounded from an 0-2 deficit to win the championship. Rasheed Wallace said the Pistons know what they have to do. "It ain't no secret to playing, no type of special way or do this or that. Just play, man," he said.