BY MITCH ALBOM
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
PHILADELPHIA -- So let's be honest. He wasn't there much of the game. He wasn't his normal aggressive self. He wasn't making shots or snagging rebounds. He wasn't even screaming at the refs. At one point, his coach had to chide him to get with it, and had we stopped the game after three quarters, Rasheed Wallace would have had three baskets, three rebounds, and a whole lot of Chris Webber outplaying him.
"I could not hit a shot," he would later say, "to save my life."
But when it comes to saving lives, playoff basketball is like a teeter-totter: It's not about your ups and down, it's about getting off at the right time.
And that, Mr. Wallace did splendidly.
He hit the first basket of overtime and grabbed the first rebound. He hit a yawning three-pointer from 24 feet, and a minute later hit another from 25 feet, just to up the ante.
He would finish with eight points and two rebounds in the extra session, and fittingly, he was holding the ball high in the closing seconds, having grabbed it off of Philadelphia's last best chance. Wallace wasn't the straw that stirred the drink, but he was definitely the one that broke the camel's back, that camel being the gutsy 76ers, and that back being their prayer of winning this series.
"In the beginning of the game, I couldn't get into the flow," Wallace admitted, after the Pistons survived a 97-92 sweatfest and locked down a 3-1 lead heading back for Game 5 of this playoff series Tuesday night. "But going into the overtime we knew they had momentum, so we had to make the first couple shots to put the pressure on them."
Everyone take a breath.