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Pistons Missing the Point

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Perhaps the headline isn't perfect.  More accurate would be "Pistons Missing Their Point."

Their as in "belonging to the Pistons."  Point as in "point guard."  Their point as in "Chauncey Billups."

The point is this: In a stunning turn of events, Sunday night's game between the Pistons and Sixers in Philadelphia suddenly has earned all sorts of intrigue for itself.  After the Pistons pounded the Sixers at home in Game two, the assumption was that Detroit would execute business with relatively minimal trouble from here on out.

Instead, the Pistons lost by 20 points in Philadelphia on Friday night, thus setting the Sixers up to put them on the brink of elimination in Game 4 on Sunday.  Not encouraging for those who support that royal blue and red.  Perfectly encouraging for the rest of us.

While the Pistons' troubles thus far in the series can certainly not be attributed solely to one man, they can certainly look at one match-up and know that the series has been so hotly contested largely thanks to the fact that the Pistons -- namely one player -- aren't getting the job done there: the point.

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As we headed into the playoffs a little more than a week ago, here's what I had to say about the X-factors for this series:

It's going to be all about the point guards -- especially if the Sixers are to have a chance in this series.  'Dre Miller has been a rock for them all year, putting up 17 points, 6.9 assists and 4 boards per game while providing invaluable veteran leadership.  If he can cause Chauncey Billups any sort of reversion to Billups' struggles last year, it will be a huge morale shot to the Pistons.  But if Billups can continue to be the player he has been all year (the guess here is that he will, at least for this round), and if he can stifle Miller, the Sixers could be all but finished right from the start.

The missing critical part is just how much the Pistons are dependent on the play of Chauncey Billups.   Yes, this is a very good team and one that can survive with a less-than-fully-effective Billups.  But perhaps not a putrid Chauncey.

It's worth remembering that this is the man who runs the Pistons' offense, who takes their big shots and who is responsible for locking down one of the other team's top perimeter players every night.   Thus far, Billups has failed to do much of any of that in his first three games against the Sixers.

He isn't shooting well at all, having put up efforts of 3-for-9, 3-for-6 and 2-for-11 (30.8 percent) from the field over the first three games.  Billups' 11.3 points per game simply aren't going to get it done for a team strapped for scoring in first place.  That Billups has been getting lit up by his opponenta doesn't help matters either. Miller has shot 55.8 percent from the field and averaged 18.3 points per game thus far.

But those numbers aren't even the craziest parts.  What's important is that -- this will shock you, I know -- just what I predicted wouldn't happen is indeed occurring right in front of us: Billups is melting down again.

Andre Miller is exuding the confidence of a team leader.  He has his team moving the ball fluidly on offense, crashing the boards hard, getting everybody shots and hustling back to play good defense.  Billups, on the other hand, seems to have reverted to being the lost soul we saw down the stretch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals:  He isn't playing with any swagger in his step at all.  He isn't Chauncey "Mr. Big Shot" Billups.  He is a Chauncey Billups who seems like he would shy away from the ball in a big situation and a Chauncey whose internal issues on the offensive end are swaying his focus on the defensive side.  How he regain that mojo is anyone's guess.

What isn't up for debate is the idea that so long as Miller can keep holding Chauncey off, the Sixers are still very much alive.

This is a Pistons team that still has more talent from top to bottom.  But it is matched with a Sixers squad that has players that -- at least through last night -- have clearly wanted it more.  The Sixers have guys who care, guys who play for each other and a leader to make them all keep coming together. 

The Pistons have no such thing right now.

Billups' resurgence this season was supposed to be about exorcising playoff disappointments of last year.  Throughout the regular season, he looked like he was ready to do just that, but the playoffs have been a completely different animal.  Billups has reverted to a shell of his former self, and until the Pistons can snap him out of that, they are going to be in a dogfight at the absolute least.

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