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The Pistons, who were down 2-0 in the series and hadn't been doubling Mutombo, didn't stop there. During that first quarter, every time he received the ball in the post, Detroit had two and sometimes three defenders pressure the 7'2" center, who had scored a playoff career-high 28 points in Game 2. His final numbers in Game 3: eight points on 1-of-4 shooting in a 79-63 Pistons win. Using the same strategy in Games 4 and 5, Detroit held Mutombo to eight and 12 points, respectively, but the Hawks still won the decisive game 87-75.
Such attentiveness to Mutombo's offensive capabilities was unheard of three seasons ago. The big fella was a mechanical post player with only one move—a hook shot—and had a career scoring average of 12.9. Detroit's mistake in the first two games of the series was in believing Mutombo still fit that description. Confident that they could contain him without the double team, the Pistons watched in horror as he devastated center Bison Dele, averaging 225 points and 16.0 rebounds and shooting 76.9% from the floor, mostly from close range.
"I was all over him for it," said Atlanta guard Steve Smith, the usual go-to guy on the club. "I keep telling him, 'Deke, I remember you from Denver, when they put you out near the three-point line and said, 'Don't shoot!' "
Mutombo is used to compliments about his defense; he is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and he led the league in blocks from the 1993-94 season through the '95-96 season. But the recent offensive flattery left him elated. "I look at myself in the mirror, and I say, Is that Dikembe Mutombo they are double-and triple-teaming out there? Or is it somebody else?" he says. "I'm just congratulating myself for getting to this point."
His teammates warn not to get carried away. His offensive weapons remain limited, and it's likely the Knicks will keep doubling him and trapping him in the second round.
Steve Francis no longer worries about answering his phone, though it still rings incessantly. Every NBA lottery team called, several times. Two teams that aren't in the lottery—Houston and Atlanta—also rang. Then there were the agents, both the major players and the new hustlers, promising the star point guard from Maryland that they could secure him the No. 1 pick—and more. "I've passed up money, cars, women, you name it," says Francis. "It's crazy."
Not anymore. Francis has picked lawyer Jeff Fried, of Washington, D.C., to represent him. Fried is a newcomer to the NBA but has had former heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe as a client. Fried's advice for all the NBA teams hoping to score a workout with Francis, a 6'3" guard whose killer crossover dribble has triggered the inevitable comparisons to Allen Iverson: Unless you are picking in the top three, you're out of luck. "If everyone wanted to come to a gym and watch me go at it, that would be fine with me," said Francis. "But this is a business riling now."