Friday, June 17, 2005

Gibby's 'Bear Trap' Just Might Snap Down On The Spurs' Title Hopes

The lane snap closed on Ginobili in Game 4 like a certain bear trap
did on the Toronto Blue Jays in 1987

Okay, so what do Kirk Gibson and the NBA Finals have in common?

Back in 1987, when the Tigers were making a furious run at the AL East title, they traveled to Toronto on the season's next-to-last weekend. They were a half game out of first place, nipping at the Blue Jays' heels.

The first three games were all losses, but Saturday's was a particularly gut-wrenching defeat. It was nationally televised, and the Tigers blew a huge lead, gradually, throughout the game, and lost in the Jay's last at-bat. NBC's Vin Scully accurately said the Tigers had "come from ahead" to lose. The team was 3 1/2 games out, with only a week and a day's worth of games to be played, and never were the fans' hopes lower. But then Gibson stood in the Tigers' clubhouse after the game, and as dejected teammates changed and showered around him, he uttered these words:

"Maybe we're just setting the biggest bear trap in history."

Gibby's words would never ring more true.

The Jays collapsed like a house of cards. The Tigers won the next day to start Toronto's slide, thanks to Gibson himself, who hit a game-tying homer in the ninth then drove in the winning run in the 11th. Toronto didn't win another game the rest of the way, the Tigers did, and they finished their improbable comeback with a three-game sweep of the Jays the following weekend.

Gibby's words might ring true again -- 18 years later

The Pistons might have set up such a bear trap in San Antonio last week.

If few people thought the Tigers would catch the Blue Jays after falling 3 1/2 games out of first place with a week to go in '87, how many outside of Detroit thought the Pistons would even win a game against the Spurs, let alone the entire series? Try about as many as you can count on one hand, and maybe still have some uncounted fingers remaining.

Have the Pistons won the NBA Finals? Of course not. Have they altered the course of the series? Aye-aye, captain. Are they in the Spurs' heads? Add a few more "aye-aye's" to that one.

The Pistons didn't just square the Finals last night with their 102-71 victory. They put on a basketball display of such dominance that if it was a baseball game, all that would have separated the Spurs from having a perfect game thrown at them would be a scratch single.

The Pistons' performance was, by the numbers, awesome: 18 forced turnovers, 22 fast break points, only 4 turnovers of their own. They outscored the Spurs 51-36 in the first half and 51-35 in the second. They never allowed San Antonio to make any significant runs. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were restrained because the Pistons squeezed the lane from the width of I-696 in Games 1 & 2 to that of a hallway. But you didn't need a stat sheet to confirm the Pistons' total control of Game 4. Even someone watching their very first basketball game, with hardly any knowledge of the rules, would agree that the Spurs were absolutely demolished. It doesn't take a basketball guru to see that one team was racing down the court for layups and dunks all night while the other struggled to even get a shot off.

But buyer beware: this series is far from over, and just as people shouldn't have written the Pistons off as dead after Games 1 & 2, nobody should go overboard and declare the Spurs as moribund after two lousy games in Detroit. The Pistons have unbelievable confidence now, no question, and the Spurs are in a fog, but this is the NBA and these are the two best teams in the game and great teams have the ability to bounce back. Nobody gets to the NBA Finals with luck and by being a fluke. There's a reason only two teams remain now and that reason is each team has resiliency, talent, and bounce back capability.

It is often said that in a playoff series, the next game is always the most important. And how much more important can Game 5 get? Just please don't use the hackneyed phrase that it's now a "best-of-three" series. A seven game series is just that -- a seven game series. It has ebbs and flows and a best-of-three series means you're starting from scratch at 0-0. This Finals series is hardly about starting at 0-0 now. The Pistons are surging and the Spurs are reeling, which is exactly why Game 5 is oh so vital. The Pistons must continue to apply the pressure, continue to choke the Spurs, or else they might yet go back to Texas trailing, which would be awful after what they were able to do in Games 3 and 4. So Game 5 is the Finals' next "must win" game, which will be followed by another "must win" for somebody in Game 6. T'ain't no best-of-three, people.

Mission two-thirds accomplished for the Pistons in Detroit. And even if they go 3-for-3 at the Palace, they still probably will be considered underdogs, because the final two games are in San Antonio. But never would being an underdog feel so sweet.

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