Friday, June 24, 2005
Dethroned? Naah -- Time Just Ran Out On The Pistons
Whether Brown leads them or not, Pistons still champs in my book
Well, the Pistons and I have one frightful thing in common: we both have lousy timing.
What a time to go cold. What a time to lose the aura. What a time to run out of tricks in the bag.
You should know what I'm talking about. I crowed -- oh, did I crow -- that a Pistons Game 7 win was so much in the bag, you didn't even have to watch the game if it was too much for you. I bragged about how hot I've been, prediction-wise, in these playoffs. I told you there would be a party down Jefferson Avenue.
Then I went cold, just like the Pistons, at the worst possible time -- the very end, when it mattered the most.
The Pistons led, 48-39, in the third quarter, and you could start to feel that ebb that had been swaying back and forth gradually tilting the Pistons' way. A couple more baskets there, a couple more stops, and I think the Pistons would have been on their way to back-to-back titles.
But the Spurs did not go away. Neither team had after the first four games, so why should we have expected it would happen in Game 7? In a flash the lead was two -- 48-46 -- and then you knew, just knew, that you'd have to sweat another one out. One more angst-filled ending. One more "here we go again, so buckle your seat belts" fourth quarter.
The Pistons had been starring in their version of "The Perils of Pauline" throughout the playoffs, and this time the bad guy finally got the girl. Right from the opening tap of the first game of the first round, the Pistons flirted with danger. They fell behind by 16 points -- in the first quarter! -- to the Sixers in Game 1 of Round 1. They trailed the Pacers 2-1 with Game 4 in Indy. They had to win Game 6 and Game 7 to get past the Heat. And now, one more peril was created, a big one this time: 0-2, then 2-3, with the last two games in San Antonio. One more "foxhole", as Chauncey Billups said, out of which to climb. But you figured, hey why not, they've done it all season, what's one more? You especially thought that after a gutsy Game 6 win. Weren't all the Pistons' wins in the playoffs "gutsy"? Sure seemed like it.
One too many.
It was said about the great Lions quarterback Bobby Layne, "Bobby never lost a game; time just ran out on him." I think that fits the Pistons pretty well, too. It may be arrogant, but I agree with them that if they play their game, they will win. It's more about what they do or don't do that dictates the final result.
Look, the Pistons have no more been "dethroned", in my book, than a divorced man loses his title of "father" to his offspring. It's corny, but the Pistons are still champions, in heart and mind if not on paper, because of how they play in momentous occasions. Yes, they got cold from the field in the last 18 minutes and scoring baskets was like eating soup with a fork. But man, did they never quit. Even though watching the final minute was like watching someone taking the last piece of pizza, but only gradually, one morsel at a time, I didn't truly think it was over until there were 10 seconds left and the Pistons were down by three possessions. That's how much it takes to believe the Pistons won't come through. Ten seconds left. A three possession ballgame. Only then could the Spurs feel like champs.
But the Pistons should feel like champs. They should feel it all summer long, all through training camp, and throughout next season (regardless of who the coach is), and certainly during next year's playoffs. They should feel it because they are it. They are as tough-minded and as resilient a bunch as I've ever seen pull on NBA uniforms. They have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I even forgive them Game 5's misery, which will poke and jab them, but that's the NBA, brother. Sheed happens.
So I was wrong. I got cold, like the Pistons, at the most inopportune time. They didn't win. But they are winners.