The notion that the veterans of the Detroit Pistons' six consecutive Eastern Conference finals appearances tend to annually struggle with a malaise of overconfidence is tough to refute.
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To be fair, count all four of the starters from the 2004 championship team Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince as the stars that flash then fade in almost predictable fashion throughout the playoffs despite their perennial success. And that's the only reason they haven't produced more titles under their belt.
Just don't include Antonio McDyess in that group, for any number of reasons.
We saw it when they lost the seventh game in San Antonio in the 2005 Finals, then blew the conference finals in 2006 to the Miami Heat after stunningly being taken the distance by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the semifinals. It crushed McDyess.
Those same Cavs knocked them out in the conference finals in 2007, and again McDyess saw his dream slipping, with age taking its obvious toll.
As if that wasn't proof enough, they lost the home opener of the 2008 playoffs to the youthful Philadelphia 76ers and required six games just to get out of the first round. Granted, they played better in the second round, probably because All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups going down with a hamstring injury created a sense of urgency, blowing by the Orlando Magic in five games.
But with Billups back and a win already in their pocket in Boston against the top-seeded Celtics, they came home and laid a big fat egg in Game 3 of the conference finals ... just another one of those inevitable stinkers from this bipolar squad.
Why they are alternately great and dead on their feet leaves many targets available.
Focus on Billups and the hamstring, the penchant for boredom in Wallace's psyche, the erratic play of Prince and Hamilton when things get physical ... it's just hard to figure with that much talent and experience. The intensity just seems to evaporate from all four veterans. Perhaps coach Flip Saunders is culpable for this inexplicable loss of focus. To be sure, they won the championship in 2004 and were within minutes of repeating in 2005 with Larry Brown as coach.
They haven't been back since, and the energy problem befuddles everyone. Not even Al Gore could pretend to have an answer.
Drive is not a problem for McDyess, who made a point of not allowing his team to lack anything in Game 4, pouring in a playoff-high 21 points, grabbing 16 rebounds and adding a block in the 19-point Pistons win. He was all over the floor, hitting jumpers, diving after loose balls, ripping off the facemask that was protecting the nose he broke in the opening round against the Sixers. Anything he had was left on the floor at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Nobody wants it more than him and heaven help the Celtics and whoever comes out of the West if the rest of the blase starters ever begin to feed off the 6-9, 250-pound former All-Star. Wednesday night at the Boston Garden, we'll find out more.
Regardless of what happens, let's get back to the amazing story of McDyess still making an impact at such a high level in this league. He'll be 34 in September, and in case you've forgotten, the second overall pick of the 1995 draft from Alabama was all but finished before his 28th birthday. Within a year's time he had surgery on his left knee three times count a cartilage and tendon torn, then the piece de resistance: a fractured knee cap.
Ironically, the final blow was precisely what happened to his predecessor with the Denver Nuggets, LaPhonso Ellis decimated a kneecap that prematurely ended his career. McDyess seemed on the same path with the two surgeries, so he was dealt to the New York Knicks in the Marcus Camby-Nene deal, and it was in the third preseason game with the Knicks that he fractured the knee cap. He played in just 10 games during that two-year span and when he was traded by the Knicks to the Phoenix Suns with just 24 game left in the 2003-04 season, most believed he was done.
But the Suns didn't and neither did the Pistons. He started the last 14 games for the Suns and averaged just less than 9.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and nearly 2.0 steals. He didn't have the great leaping ability or explosion with the ball that was his trademark, but he played smart, he played hard, and more than anything else, he always wanted it more than whoever he was playing against. Consequently, McDyess was consistently productive.
So Pistons president Joe Dumars figured it was worth the gamble to offer him a four-year $23 million deal in the summer of 2004. He knew that McDyess would do whatever it takes to gain that elusive title from his resume, and they've had no regrets since. Dice has missed all of nine regular season games during the four years.
Now it's a best-of-3 series with the Celtics entering Game 5, with the winner a prohibitive favorite to win the series. There will be only one guarantee in the Pistons performance, though, and that will come from McDyess. With or without facemask, the end of his contract and 34th birthday clearly in sight, McDyess won't go down without a fight.
What we don't know is how many of his teammates will be with him.