It's no surprise the Pistons lost Game 3 in Orlando. The Magic desperately needed the victory to stay alive, and Detroit is well-known for losing focus and doing things the hard way. But the Pistons have to be getting a little sweaty under all those facemasks and headbands right now, regarding the status of Chauncey Billups (right).
The Pistons star guard went down with a strained hamstring early in Wednesday night's contest and his availability for Friday's Game 4 is unknown. Billups is Detroit's quarterback and leader, and he gave his team a big edge over young Magic point guard Jameer Nelson. Rodney Stuckey played very well in relief, but the rookie guard is no Billups.
Besides Billups' injury, the other key factor in Game 3 was the way it started. Basically, everything that could go wrong did for Detroit. Rasheed Wallace picked up two quick fouls, Billups slipped and strained his hammy, and the Pistons missed 11 of their first 12 shots. At one point, the Magic held a 20-3 lead. Still, Detroit managed to get back in the game and pull within three at 71-68 late in the third quarter.
Rashard Lewis had a season- and playoff-career-high 33 points, and he joined with Keyon Dooling (10 points in fourth) to squelch that late Pistons run. Lewis and the Magic did a great job attacking the rim all night -- a necessity given the way the Pistons have been staying out on Magic shooters. Lewis' decision to bypass a jumper and take it inside led to Wallace's fourth foul midway through the third quarter. Hedo Turkoglu also went hard to the hole, though his tendency to shoot layups with his right hand from the left side of the basket has to make grade school coaches everywhere cringe.
Dooling's emergence in the fourth quarter was a good sign for the Magic. Orlando desperately needs somebody off its bench to come in and help offset some of the production of Detroit's Zoo Crew. The 6-foot-3 Dooling didn't do anything in the first two games. If he gets on a roll, he could be an X-factor with his size on defense (especially if Billups returns) and his ability to make shots.
The Pistons now face a tough decision heading into Game 4. Do they bring Billups back even if he's not 100 percent? Or do they sit him out and let him rest? Given that Detroit would be an underdog in Orlando anyway, it would probably be more prudent to keep him out and try to make sure he's healthy the rest of the series. Plus, there's always the chance that Billups' absence would bring the Pistons together and sharpen that focus. Then if the Pistons went out and stole Game 4, the series would be all but over.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.