B. Wallace is back; so are Pistons


AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - One game isn't going to make all his worries disappear, but one game sure eased the strain.

Ben Wallace cleared his head. Then he cleared the way for the Detroit Pistons.

After wrestling with a range of off-the-court emotions the past few weeks that took a toll on his game, Wallace regained the edge that has made him the most dominating defensive player in basketball.

If his performance in Game 3 of the NBA Finals is any indication, the San Antonio Spurs had best brace themselves for the onslaught tonight.

Wallace is back.

The Spurs still lead the series 2-1, but he ended any talk of a quick ending.

"Stuff off the court sometimes takes a toll on you mentally. I had a lot going on, a lot surrounding me coming into the Finals," Wallace said yesterday after practice.

"My wife finally just told me, 'Go play basketball or you aren't going to eat [when you get home].' I had to do something."

Wallace responded Tuesday night by reassuming his role as the emotional leader of the Pistons, rediscovering the aggressiveness that has made him a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the energy that made him so popular with Pistons fans.

He stole a pass in the opening 10 seconds and scored. He blocked five shots in the first quarter. He had three steals. He had six offensive rebounds. He played like a man with his hair on fire, running everywhere. He attacked the game, and it energized those around him.

"That's the Ben Wallace we all know and love," said Pistons guard Chauncey Billups. "We got him back. He set the tone."

When the Pistons lost the first two games of the series, Wallace shouldered much of the blame, not because he played badly, but because it was obvious something was missing.

There was - his usual unrelenting drive.

He had overcome a season filled with personal roadblocks, even tragedy, but he struggled when problems struck again in the playoffs.

The troubles started with an emergency appendectomy before training camp. His oldest brother died of brain cancer a week into the season. He was suspended for six games for his role in the infamous brawl with the Indiana Pacers. Then another brother, who was at that game, was later charged in connection with the fight.

"It's been a difficult season," Wallace said. "Things happen, and you just move on. On the court, you try to block everything else out."

During the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat, more tragedy struck. Two close friends back home in White Hall, Ala., died in a house fire. Wallace wanted to attend the funerals, but he couldn't because of his game/practice schedule. He did miss a practice when his infant son needed surgery.

About that time, Miami's Shaquille O'Neal questioned Wallace's reputation as the league's premier defensive player. Even though Detroit got past Miami, Wallace just didn't play like he knew he could.

He did Tuesday night, finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

NBA Finals

San Antonio vs. Detroit

Best of seven; *-if necessary

All games on chs. 2, 7

(San Antonio leads series 2-1)

Game 1: San Antonio, 84-69

Game 2: San Antonio, 97-76

Game 3: Detroit, 96-79

Today: at Detroit, 9 p.m.

Sunday: at Detroit, 9 p.m.

*Tuesday: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.

*Next Thursday: at San Antonio, 9 p.m.

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