AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - The last time Ben Wallace attempted to hold his ground for an extended period against Shaquille O'Neal, he was granted three months off to re-claim enough strength to hoist the 2004 NBA championship trophy.
This time, the Pistons' center was granted two days before taking the final steps toward another title.
That, as much as anything, teammate Tayshaun Prince said, is why the real Wallace was not on display until Tuesday's Game 3 victory over San Antonio that cut Detroit's deficit to 2-1 in these best-of-seven NBA Finals.
"I think Ben was more affected than anybody on our team as far as going from the Miami series to this series," Prince said Wednesday, as the Pistons prepared for last night's Game 4 at the Palace of Auburn Hills. "Anybody who goes against Shaq for seven games and guards him for 30-plus minutes and plays 40-plus minutes a game, you're going to be fatigued no matter what.
"I thought it bothered him in Game 1, but [Tuesday] night he really came out. When he establishes a defensive presence, it really carries through the whole team."
After languishing through a pair of uneven Finals performances, the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year offered his most complete game in weeks Tuesday, with 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting, 11 rebounds, five blocked shots and three steals in a 96-79 victory.
It was Wallace's first double double since he closed with 13 points and 13 rebounds May 23 in Detroit's Game 1 victory over the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
From that point, the 90-pound deficit against O'Neal seemed to take a toll on the Pistons' 6-foot-9, 240-pound energizer.
Wallace acknowledged Wednesday it took an extended period to recover after his Pistons finished off O'Neal's Lakers in five games in last year's NBA Finals.
"Without a doubt," he said.
This time, instead of moving directly into parade formation upon vanquishing O'Neal, there was a flight from Miami to San Antonio, one day of practice, and then two discouraging losses to the Spurs.
But in Game 3, playing at home for the first time in 10 days, Wallace appeared revitalized, even while spending nearly a third of the game helping to harass Spurs forward Tim Duncan into 5-for-15 shooting.
Perhaps it was the week of post-Shaq recovery. Or perhaps it was something a bit closer to home.
Teammates weren't the only ones who noted the passive approach. So Monday night, Wallace's wife, Chanda, decided to put some spark back into their marriage.
"She said, 'Let your hair down and go out there and play some basketball, or else you can't eat,'" Wallace said. "You've got to take that in and consider that you haven't been doing anything if your wife tells you that."
That left Shaq's two-time conqueror hungering for more than just victory.
"I don't know if it was a home-cooked meal or sleeping in his own bed, but his energy level, it was like night and day," guard Chauncey Billups said.
Wallace said such are the challenges issued at his home.
"My wife just told me that I wasn't playing the way she was accustomed to seeing me play," he said. "It's just one of those things that happen."
It wasn't the first time the Pistons' defensive meal ticket played for food.
"She does it all the time," he said with a smile. "She'd lock me in the closet, too."
With Wallace back to his All-Star self, the Pistons are confident about pushing the series back to San Antonio for at least a Game 6.
"When I'm active," he said, "everyone seems to feed off my energy."
And no, teammates have no plans to make Wallace earn every morsel the rest of the way. Considering he has gotten them past two playoff series in the past calendar year against O'Neal, they never doubted his hunger.
"You drag Shaq around for seven games, and see how you'll feel," Billups said. "Such a quick turnaround to get to San Antonio, I think maybe it wore on him a little bit. I think those first two games came too quick."
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.