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Billups, Iguodala finally join series
by Marc Narducci / May 1, 2008

Andre Iguodala - Icon Sports Media It took five games, but the two central figures of the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers finally performed to their accustomed levels.

In the first four games, Detroit point guard Chauncey Billups and Sixers swingman Andre Iguodala had been surprisingly held in check. And that is putting it mildly.

Billups shot 28.6 percent in the first four games, while Iguodala was shooting at a 22.4 percent clip, in addition to leading the series with 17 turnovers.

The performance of both in the first four games was mystifying because Iguodala, while facing extra scrutiny all season, filled the stat sheet as Philadelphia surprisingly filled the win column.

Picked by many to be the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the 76ers finished 40-42 and earned their first postseason berth in three years.

Iguodala is known for his versatility and in the regular season he averaged 19.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.09 steals in 39.5 minutes. Washington's Caron Butler and Iguodala were the only players among qualifers to average at least 19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and two steals this season.

Billups averaged 17 points. 6.8 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.29 steals in 32.3 minutes during the regular season.

More than statistics, he is known as one of the league's top leaders.

Billups is most effective when hitting from the perimeter because then teams have to play him honest. When that happens, he has the explosion and power to blow by a defender to the basket.

Iguodala can also get to the basket effectively, but the most improvement this season came with his outside shot. He attempted 307 three-pointers, almost as many as the two previous seasons when he had 313. Iguodala shot 32.9 percent from beyond the arc and appeared to gain more confidence as the season wore on.

That all changed in the first four games, when Tayshaun Prince smothered him on defense and blew by him on offense.

Iguodala missed all nine three-point attempts in the first four games. Meanwhile, Prince was shooting 66.6 percent entering the fifth game. In Games 3 and 4 Prince was unconscious, shooting 19 for 21.

So with that as a backdrop, both Billups and Iguodala looked like different players in Game 5

In fact it was Billups who sparked Detroit's 98-81 win by scoring 14 first quarter points, hitting fi of 6 from the field, including both three point attempts.

Detroit led 35-21 after one quarter and never relinquished a double-digit lead the rest of the game.

The Pistons, who this series have been known to turn the intensity level on and off, were in tune in Game 5 and Billups was the ringleader.

We knew Game 6 was going to be the elimination game either way it went and we wanted to be on the upper hand of that, Billups said.

Actually, that attitude began in the second half of Game 4. Trailing by 14 points late in the second quarter and by 10 at halftime, the Pistons outscored Philadelphia, 58-37 in the second half to win 93-84.

I think we picked up the momentum that we had in the second half of Game 4, Billups said.

It s amazing how the Pistons feed off Billups, who also had 12 assists, topping his previous series high of 7 in Game 4.

He had a couple shooting woes for a few games, Pistons center Rasheed Wallace said of Billups. The only way to do it is to come out of shooting. I was never worried about Chauncey having a bad shooting night. It was only a matter of time.

It was amazing that the Sixers won two of the four games with Iguodala slumping.

It must be noted that even though he shot 4 for 16 during the Sixers 90-86 win in Game 1, Iguodala also contributed nine rebounds and eight assists in an almost triple-double effort. The next three games, it seemed as if all parts of his game were suffering.

The difference between the teams is that Detroit can withstand an off-night from Billups better than the Sixers can from Iguodala.

Besides Chauncey, they have four other guys who can score the ball, Iguodala said. When he gets it going, it adds another dimension and you have to play lock-down one-on-one defense, which is tough in this league.

In Game 5 both Iguodala and Billups finished with 21 points. Iguodala shot 8 for 13 from the field and hit 1 of 2 from beyond the arc and all four of his free throws. Billups shot 7 of 14 from the field and was 3 of 6 from beyond the arc.

It was the first time that either outplayed their main defender in the same game. For Billups that was Andre Miller and for Iguodala, it is the long-armed multi-skilled Prince.

On a Detroit team where Wallace, Prince and Hamilton were all-stars this season, the best player in the series has been Prince. The 6-6 Iguodala has found it difficult to shoot over Prince and his expanded wingspan.

He as probably been the most consistent player in this series and has hurt us in a verity of ways, Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said about Prince.

Iguodala admitted to forcing he issue in the first four games, so he changed his strategy in Game 5.

Instead of attacking the basket early and forcing shots, he let the game come to him. During the first quarter he took just four shots, but made them all.

In the first quarter, I didn't shoot shot until later on, Iguodala said. I was trying to get in a rhythm and trying to get in motion and keep the defense honest. Maybe I have to do it earlier.

Billups on the other hand, was aggressive from the beginning and the Pistons followed his lead.

When Billups is going poorly, the Pistons look like an aging unit, capable of being upset by a team like the Sixers. When Billups is on his game, Detroit resembles a team that is looking to get to the Eastern Conference final for a sixth consecutive year.

Marc Narducci covers the NBA for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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