The NBA in the early to mid-2000s was a slow-paced, defensive game. Basketball was played almost like chess, with each team carefully needing to make the right move on every possession, or they could be burnt.
That's the one key difference between the era of the early 2000s and today. In today's game, the pace is higher, and you can get away with a few bad possessions. In the early 2000s, every possession mattered because they meant so much.
A prime example of this is last year, in the 2021-22 season, teams averaged 88.1 shot attempts per game. In the 2003-04 season, teams only averaged 79.8 shot attempts per game.
Defense ruled during this time and, in particular, the 2003-04 season. During that season, the two best defensive teams in the Eastern Conference were the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. Both teams finished in the top three defensive ratings that year, only trailing the San Antonio Spurs.
The Pacers and Pistons would create one of the best rivalries of the 2000s during this time as well. Who can forget the infamous Malice at the Palace, which occurred on November 19, 2004, in Detroit as they played the Pacers?
This incident occurred during the 2004-05 season, but before this game, the Pacers and Pistons built their rivalry the year before, in the 2003-04 season. The rivalry sprung into full effect when the two teams met up in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Tayshaun Prince's Block On Reggie Miller In Game 2 Changes The Series
The Indiana Pacers finished the 2003-04 season with the best record in the league at 61-21. They had young stars like Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest. Indiana still had their veteran leader in Reggie Miller.
Miller was known for constantly hitting clutch shots throughout his career, especially in the playoffs. In the first game of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, Miller would live up to his reputation.
The game was tied 74-74 with less than 40 seconds remaining in the game. Miller popped off a screen, caught the ball behind the three-point line, and fired up a three over Richard Hamilton... Splash. Miller made his three to give the Pacers a 77-74 lead with 31.7 seconds remaining.
The Pacers would go on to win the game 78-74, as they protected their home court. It looked like the Pacers were going to run away with the series and make their first NBA Finals since 2000.
The Pacers were the best team all season long, so there was no reason not to expect them to defeat the Pistons. Game 2 was another tight game that would go down to the wire.
With 1:38 remaining in the game, the Pistons appeared to be in full control as they led 69-63, but the Pacers' clutch veteran wouldn't let his team go away that easily. Miller would draw back-to-back fouls, and he'd sink all four free throws.
Now with 45.6 seconds remaining, the Pistons' lead was 69-67. Miller was gaining a rhythm from the line, and he was poised for another clutch playoff performance.
The Pistons were a solid team, and they weren't about to back down. Rasheed Wallace attacked the basket and went for a power dunk with 30 seconds left. At the basket, he was met by Jermaine O'Neal, who swatted Wallace's attempt away.
Chauncey Billups would recover the ball for the Pistons, and they went into full attack mode once more, as the shot clock was running down. As Billups went up for a shot, the Pacers point guard, Jamaal Tinsley, stripped the ball loose with 22.3 seconds remaining in the game.
As soon as the ball was knocked loose, Reggie Miller took off down the court toward his basket. Jeff Foster picked up the ball for the Pacers and quickly passed the ball to Tinsley.
Tinsley didn't hold the ball for long as he threw it to a wide-open Miller, who was closing in on his basket. For the second straight game, Miller was in the position to make a clutch playoff basket, as he's done plenty of times in the past.
Miller caught the ball with 20.2 seconds left in the game, and it appeared he'd finish an easy wide-open layup that would tie the game at 69 a piece. Then, something extraordinary happened.
The Pistons' small forward, Tayshaun Prince, sprinted seemingly out of nowhere, trying to catch up to Miller. Prince was coming fast, but it still appeared that Miller would get an easy layup, as he was only a step away from converting his layup attempt.
As Miller released his layup attempt, Prince flew by and, with his incredible length, cleanly blocked Miller's shot, to the shock of everyone in the building. Richard Hamilton recovered the ball with 17.1 seconds left in the game.
The Pacers had no choice but to foul Hamilton, and they did with 14.6 seconds remaining. The players on the Pacers bench and every Pacers fan in the stands sat quietly, not sure if what they saw really happened.
After the block, Prince lay off the court in the middle of the media personnel and the fans who sat close to the action. Prince went so fast to catch Miller that he flew into the crowd. After being fouled, Hamilton rushed to see if Prince was okay... He was.
The Pistons would hold on to the lead as they won, 72-67 to tie the series at 1-1. Prince's incredible block not only saved the game for the Pistons, but it took the momentum away from the Pacers for the remainder of the series.
After Game 2, the Pacers never truly looked the same. Their confidence appeared to be shattered, while the Pistons looked to be the better team. Detroit proved this to be true as they knocked the Pacers off in six games to reach their first NBA Finals since 1990.
The Pistons were heavy underdogs as they played the superteam version of the Los Angeles Lakers, led by Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone. It didn't matter if the Pistons were outmatched; they carried the momentum gained from Prince's block on Miller into the NBA Finals.
The Pistons surprisingly defeated the Lakers quite easily, winning the series 4-1. Detroit won its third championship in franchise history, and it is all thanks to Tayshaun Prince and his incredible block that changed the Pistons' fortune.