Prosperity and the Detroit Pistons don't go hand-in-hand.
They are the defending champions, but with a roster of castoffs who are led by a vagabond coach, the Pistons carry themselves as the eternal underdogs.
Self-persecution is the makeup of the Pistons and the city they represent. Their feelings of being overlooked and slighted explain why forward Rasheed Wallace was compelled to purchase extravagant championship belts -- which complement their flashy championship rings -- to scold people who viewed their title last season as more of a Los Angeles Lakers collapse than the rise of the Pistons.
The Pistons thrive on being counted out, revel in being buried alive. So, here they are again, in a situation that is both intimidating and ideal for a team that has consistently proven its resilience the past two seasons: trailing the San Antonio Spurs 3-2 in this best-of-seven NBA Finals and on the road for Game 6 in a city where they have lost 10 consecutive games.
"We've had our backs against the wall before," Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince said. "You don't want to be in the situation where it happens too many times. But up until this point, we have played great in that situation. Hopefully, we can continue to do that."
Ever since they captured the NBA title with a surprising "five-game sweep" of the Lakers, the Pistons have needed a little adversity to shake them up. They know drama, having dealt with Coach Larry Brown's health concerns; the season-long speculation that Brown would leave at season's end; the Nov. 19 brawl that occurred on their home floor; a sluggish start to the regular season; and falling behind in each of their past three playoff series, including losing the first two games against the Spurs.
"We're going to fight till the end," center Ben Wallace said. "We're a tough-minded team and we have some tough guys in the locker room. We'll bounce back."
The Pistons' 96-95 overtime loss at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Game 5 still stings a day later, as they blew a four-point lead in the final 1 minute 41 seconds.
"It's not a lot of fun," Brown said on Monday after a sleepless night filled with visions of Spurs forward Robert Horry nailing that wide-open, game-winning three-pointer with 5.8 seconds left. "A good friend of mine called me this morning and reminded me about the Red Sox. They had to go into Yankee Stadium and win two and they weren't the defending champs, so I am confident our guys will show up and play our best game."
Brown again blamed himself for not communicating clearly enough with Rasheed Wallace, who left Horry to double-team Manu Ginobili in the corner, setting up the decisive sequence: Ginobili whipped the ball to Horry. Horry knocked down his shot as Prince lunged toward him. Horry held his right hand high, skipping down the court as Wallace and the Pistons looked on in shock.
"It's the kind of game you hate to see anybody lose," Brown said.
Given his postgame comments, Wallace sounded as if he suffered a severe brain freeze. He hadn't fully grasped the situation or the personnel, confusing a floppy-haired, 6-foot-6 Argentine for a 7-foot black man from the U.S. Virgin Islands. "I decided to double Tim Duncan down low," he said, explaining his reasons for abandoning Horry. "But [Horry] got the ball and knocked down the shot."
Wallace didn't sound heartbroken afterward. "Our spirits are still high," he said. "In order to win this series, you've got to win four games, not three."
The Pistons don't have to search hard for inspiration or past experience. They lost in triple overtime against the New Jersey Nets in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals last season, but won the next two games to advance to the Finals -- including Game 6 in New Jersey. They trailed the Miami Heat 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals this season before winning the last two games -- including Game 7 on the road.
"Teams that have gotten this far realize that it is difficult to get here. It is not easy, or everybody would be doing it," Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said. "A really good team has the ability to play through whatever is going on on the court. Whether it is a good break or a bad break, they have the ability to move on to the next play. That is why I think that we are going to have a heck of a game" in Game 6.
Unlike the past two times they trailed 3-2, the Pistons will have to win the final two games on the road. And the Spurs are 46-5 at SBC Center this season. The Pistons haven't won in San Antonio since April 1997.
"It is a challenge to get to the Finals back-to-back. It's a challenge to win a championship. Teams don't accomplish that unless they have a lot of grit and character," Brown said. "I don't think you can ever look back. You have to look ahead. Both teams have a lot of character and we are just going to have to do our very best because that is what it is going to take."
Since the Finals went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985, the Game 5 winner (following a 2-2 tie) has won the Finals four out of six times. And, when the home team has a 3-2 lead, it is 7-0 in Game 6.
"Everything is difficult now, so no big deal," reserve guard Lindsey Hunter said. "We got to win two."
Or hand over the Larry O'Brien Trophy -- and the belts -- to the Spurs.