Thursday, May 18, 2006

WWLHA: What Would Larry Have Allowed?

Larry Brown makes me laugh. Not with what he says, necessarily, but what he does.

Leaving good jobs. Taking ill-fated ones. Negotiating with others during the playoffs. Combining paranoia, stubbornness, gold-mining, and pandering -- sometimes all in one week.

But, as much as I hate to pose this question this morning, I will.

Would LB have allowed the Pistons to blow three straight games to the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Some of you may honestly answer that yes, this playoff implosion would have occurred no matter who occupies the coach's seat. The Pistons have turned into arrogant, self-proclaimed Supermen that are, by their own estimations, beyond reproach.

"Not if I was the coach!"

But I think the overwhelming consensus is that, for all his warts, Larry Brown would not be presiding over such a collapse right now, if he was still in charge.

Flip Saunders' hands-off approach, in which we compared him to Daddy Rich -- Chuck Daly -- for his seeming ability to manage his players without smothering them (i.e. Larry Brown), might have gone too far. Now, when a little smothering might be in order, it's questionable whether Saunders -- especially in 36 hours -- can muster the guile needed for such a chore.

Game 6 will tell us a lot about both of these teams. And, so will it reveal much about Saunders -- much more than his youthful counterpart, Mike Brown.

I'm not buying into the theory that "the closing game is the hardest to win", when it comes to these Cavaliers, who are growing faster than Jack's beanstalk. If they haven't buckled yet -- and they haven't even come close -- then I doubt they'll suddenly play tight Friday night. Sure, they don't want to return to Detroit for a Game 7 that they'll likely lose. But haven't they already exceeded expectations? Just a few days ago the Free Press headline read, "LeBroom?", prior to Game 3. Now the Cavs have a chance to do their own in-series sweeping -- four straight over the league's supposed powerhouse.

"Hey, they're not the big, bad wolf and we're not the three little pigs," LeBron James said after last night's 86-84 Game 5 win.

LeBron, until this season a playoff virgin, is now suddenly deft enough to use a nursery rhyme as an allegory.

I think it was the "three little pigs" part of James' comment that he meant to be emphasized by the ink-stained wretches and the TV and radio blabbermouths. For certain, hardly anyone expected LeBron's "James Gang" to win more than one game in this series. Now they have three -- one for each little piggy.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether the upstart Cavs can pull off what will be, in my mind, one of the greatest playoff upsets in NBA history. I have a gut feeling that they can't. But to have extended the Pistons to a seventh game in order for them to be eliminated should make their summer gratifying, albeit disappointing.

Cleveland has the luxury of playing the remainder of this series without the daunting specter of an entire state's depression hinging on whether they win or lose. Even if they get smoked tomorrow night, doubtless the Quicken Loans Arena crowd will treat them nicely, as they should.

But here's something that should make you feel better: Most championship runs contain at least one moment of peril -- one hurdle that, once cleared, seems to make the rest of the journey easier to contend with. Maybe this is the Pistons' hurdle. Maybe this is a series that, should they yet win the championship, we'll all look back on and say, "Maybe it was good for them to be scared by Cleveland. It shook them up."

Still, you have to wonder whether Flip Saunders' predecessor would have allowed this scare to be THIS scary.

Yet Larry can stay right where he is, thank you.


Big Al said...

I was thinking much the same thing last night.

There aren't many, if any, coaches that would be the equal of LB in regard to late game matchups and X's and O's. Just look at how often the Pistons scored out of TO's under BLB compared to the FUBAR'ed plays run last night.

I doubt this playoff implosion happens if LB is at the helm. But if he had come back for another season, there would have been a homicide at the Palace sometime during the season.

So it is what it is at this point. I'm not all that confident about the Pistons' chances in game 6.

Greg Eno said...


The Pistons looked tight last night -- as tight as I've ever seen them recently.

Looks to me like they're feeling the weight of the entire world on their shoulders as they see this series slipping away.

Still, I boldly predict a Game 6 win.

Ian C. said...

It's a natural question, and I'd like to think LB would've made a difference in at least one of the last two games.

(And of course I'd be upset if the Pistons lose, but for me, these guys are accountable, and that matters to me. They're not the hold-up-their-hands-and-look-at-the-ref-for-a-call whiners they were up until Game 7 vs. Miami.)

But looking at a wider scope, I'm not sure if the Pistons would've been a 64-win team had LB come back. As Big Al said, there probably would've been a mutiny or outburst of some sort had the players been forced to put up with another year of Drama Queen antics.

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