Just when I thought I was already excited for the 2005 NBA Finals, I received the following e-mail from Memphis reader Brad Baker:
"If the Pistons lose, I think that Rasheed Wallace should be forced to hand over his belt to Tim Duncan while doing the whole 'I hate that I lost, but I respect you' handshake like Hogan at Wrestlemania 6. Then he could raise Duncan's hand in victory and be carried from the court in a miniature wrestling ring."
Needless to say, I'm now rooting for the Spurs. If the Pistons lose, Rasheed has to hand over the belt to Duncan. This needs to happen. It has to happen. And the scenario had me so fired up, I even kept a running diary of Game 1 last night:
9:15 Some highlights from the Chevrolet NBA "Game Time" pregame show on ABC, which somehow managed to last 45 minutes
1. Bill Walton praised the Pistons for a "remarkable ability to cut off the head off their opponent." Nice image.
2. Hubie Brown on the Pistons: "They are tunnel vision."
3. Not one but two pregame guests (Phil Jackson and Clyde Drexler) ducked chances to make a pick for the Finals. Thanks for coming on, guys.
4. We saw our first (and definitely not last) promo for the upcoming ABC mini-series "Empire." You're risking an emperor's life!
5. ABC's musical choice for the "Let's Get Excited for Game 1" goose-bump montage: Rob Thomas. Let's just say that he wouldn't have been my first choice or my 1,500th. That was followed by Alanis Morissette's singing the national anthem first we had a Canadian MVP, now we have Canadians singing our anthem before the NBA Finals? What's going on here?
6. Right before they introduced the starting lineups, Robert Horry came out to sing his new hit single, "Switch." I'm telling you, the guy can do it all.
9:20 The game starts and Rasheed draws first blood with a turnaround over Duncan, followed by Hubie's telling us, "Duncan will tell you that Rasheed's length is a problem." Trust me, it sounded 10 times funnier.
9:26 Did you ever notice how the Spurs lead the NBA in the always-underrated category of most hot trophy wives and girlfriends sitting behind the benches? Any time they cut to a closeup of a coach, it's a mortal lock that you'll see an ample cleavage in the background behind them. It's uncanny.
9:29 Detroit 8, San Antonio 2. Either the Pistons look especially fired up tonight, or the Spurs are rusty as hell. I'm leaning toward the latter.
9:30 Hubie has now said the word "length" four times in 10 minutes.
9:33 Through six minutes: Pistons 13, Spurs 4. Love the way they're calling this game I think these are the same refs who worked the touch football game in "Lock Up."
9:36 After a textbook Detroit defensive rotation on a failed Parker drive, Hubie says, "Now, if you appreciate defense, the rotation and the intimidation on that layup was just beautiful to watch." Couldn't agree more. Sure, only like 19 fans appreciate this stuff, and it will translate into ratings suicide for ABC but he's right. That was awesome to watch.
9:41 Our first foul on Detroit gets called at the 4:14 mark, drawing a sarcastic cheer from the crowd. That's one of the more underrated crowd noises in sports the "Thanks for finally blowing the whistle, you [expletive]" noise.
9:44 "I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball. I want you armed for life. I want you to develop as a player. I want you to develop as a student. And I want you to develop as a human being."
(In the meantime, American Express is going to write me a gigantic check while you guys get a free scholarship, free sneakers, a free room and that's it. But let me know if you need any advice or anything, I'm always here for you.)
9:50 Parker dribbles the ball off his foot with 4.3 seconds remaining, leading to a quick Billups substitution and the yes! There it is! The inevitable "4.3 seconds is a long time" comment from Hubie. I know this man like the back of my hand.
9:51 Our score after one: 20-17. Not a good sign for Detroit they played a near-flawless first quarter and they're only up by three. These are things that happen when your bench is a weaker link than Gretchen Mol in "Rounders."
9:58 Hubie thinks they're "allowing a lot of contact between Ginobili and Hamilton." I think that Ginobili is going to get to third base with Hamilton by the end of the night. Regardless, here's the point: Ginobili is playing Rip very tight tonight.
10:03 When Jennifer Aniston is watching TV and that "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" commercial comes on, does she just start throwing things? And who would be the best revenge boyfriend for her? I'd go with Wilmer Valderrama if I were her. That would drive me crazy knowing that my ex-wife was dating Wilmer Valderrama. I wouldn't be able to handle it. Wait, he's like 5-foot-6! He has a lisp! What do people see in this guy? I'd be obsessed. Anyway, that should be her move. Either him or Michael Clarke Duncan.
10:07 Remember when the Spurs acquired Brent Barry last summer and everyone reacted like they had just acquired John Havlicek in his prime? Um, he just picked up three fouls in about 4.2 seconds. On the bright side, I don't think there's a player in the league who spends more money on his haircut.
10:10 Best player in the first half so far: Chauncey Billups. I remember watching him on the Celtics as a rookie and thinking, "There's no way he'll ever figure out how to run a team." Unfortunately, Rick Pitino came to the same conclusion and traded him. Now he's the reigning NBA Finals MVP and one of the best money guards in the league. The lesson, as always: There's a reason Rick Pitino and I aren't running NBA teams.
10:17 They just showed a "Dancing With the Stars" promo, which reminds me: Start TiVo-ing this show, if only for the Evander Holyfield parts. Did you ever have a quiet family member who got drunk at a wedding and decided to show off his moves on the dance floor and wasn't half-bad except that he sported a crazy half-smile/half-intensity look the entire time, and you weren't quite sure if someone was going to be groped inappropriately? That's what we're getting with Evander every week.
10:21 All right, here's my task for ESPN colleague John Hollinger: Come up with a stat that quantifies how much of an offensive disaster Lindsay Hunter has been in the 2005 playoffs. Isn't there a way to combine "Number of times he dribbled the ball off his foot at midcourt," "missed open layups," "airballs," "missed wide-open 3s," "charges committed" and "passes off a teammate's face" into one giant stat? If not, there should be.
10:22 Can you tell I'm just babbling about random stuff because this game sucks?
10:25 Our halftime score: Pistons 37, Spurs 35. See, I told you it would be a high-scoring series! Every potential "Maybe I'll give this series a chance" casual fan has been driven away to the MTV Movie Awards, CSI and the other 450 channels that everyone gets now. Good work, fellas.
10:41 I don't have a single interesting thing to say about the halftime show.
10:49 The second half is under way. And just for the record, we get it, we get it Larry Brown and Greg Popovich are good friends. Gotcha. Heard you the first 200 times. Thank God they're not kissing each other before games like Isiah and Magic did.
10:51 Duncan misses an easy bank shot, prompting Michaels to say, "That's his money shot normally off the glass." That was nice.
10:53 Reason No. 473 why I could never be a basketball announcer: Every time Bruce Bowen launches a jumpshot, I would scream out "Pull!"
10:56 Man, this is ugly. We just had another charge, this time on Ben Wallace. I didn't want to do this, but it's time for a Jay Leno joke. Ready? Even Paris Hilton's credit card didn't have this many charges! Thank you, thank you! Stick around, we have John Travolta coming up right after this!
10:58 44-43, Spurs. This game is so offensively challenged, we just had the inevitable jumper that got stuck between the rim and the backboard (courtesy of Rasheed Wallace). You knew that was coming.
(I always thought that would have been a great ending to a bad basketball movie guy goes for the game-winning shot, it gets stuck between the rim and the backboard, leading to the jumpball at midcourt with two seconds left, and then his teammate wins the tap and tips it to our hero ... who drains a midcourt heave at the buzzer. It would be the hoops equivalent of the double knockdown at the end of "Rocky 2.")
11:02 Does anyone else watch these "War of the Worlds" promos and think to themselves, "Man, I wish Tom Cruise didn't go completely insane, I think I would have really enjoyed this movie?"
11:03 Where does Rip Hamilton still wearing the Schnozzaroo (that see-through mask to protect his face) rank among the weirdest ongoing subplots in sports that nobody brings up or even questions? Does he ever take it off? Did his broken nose take three years to heal? What if Hubie showed up for tonight's game wearing one would you think that was weird? I'm totally confused by this.
11:05 Duncan just pulled off a three-point play he's pretty much taking over the game. I'd tell you how many points and rebounds he has, but let's just say that, um, I might have to log on to the internet if I want that type of information tonight.
11:09 Hey, a stat! Detroit had missed 11 of its last 13 shots before Prince's jumper just now. San Antonio, 49-47. Get the guys from ESPN Classic on the phone.
11:12 I'm openly checking my e-mails.
11:16 Tayshaun Prince takes the first hard foul of the game (courtesy of Big Shot Bob), giving Michaels the chance to call him a "southpaw." I enjoyed that for some reason. And while I'm typing that, Ginobili just misses a half-court heave in traffic, causing him to do the thing where he clenches his fist and screams out loud. Unfortunately, those were the two highlights of the game so far. After three, it's San Antonio 55, Detroit 51, ABC 10 (that's the number of ABC executives who just jumped out of a window).
11:22 I'm already Rob Thomas'ed out. Did you ever think you would long for the days of the Black Eyed Peas belting out "Let's get it started!" every 20 seconds (from the 2004 Finals)? Well, I'm longing for them.
11:23 Michaels just rattled off the inevitable "beauty is in the beholder" speech, admitting it's a low-scoring game but arguing that any basketball fan should appreciate the defense and the intensity, even finishing with, "It may not be elegant, but you have to appreciate it."
Really? I have to appreciate dozens of wide-open bricks, missed layups and terrible decisions in traffic? Did great defense make Bowen fire that wide-open airball that nearly pulled a Joe Johnson on Antonio McDyess' face? I don't think so. There are 24 guys in this game, and only two of them (Duncan and Billups) look even remotely competent offensively. So you can't play that card, Al. I'm sorry.
11:24 Ben Wallace tries to take a charge on Ginobili, gets whistled for a foul, flips out and draws a technical, leading to our first full-scale Hubie Routine of the night: "Now, I'm Ben Wallace I just out-quicked Ginobili, I should not be punished by picking up a foul that time, I guessed where he was going. I wish Ron Artest was here so I could give him a violent two-hand shove to the face."
(All right, I made up the last sentence, but Hubie said everything else. By the way, the Spurs are suddenly up by seven.)
11:28 "I want you to develop as a player. I want you to develop as a student. I want you to develop as a human being. And I want this commercial to keep running every hour or so, because I think I'm getting royalties each time "
11:30 Tafoya reports that Ginobili is so popular in San Antonio, one local family even named its new son "Ginobili." Since that wasn't nearly enough information, I ended up Googling it little Ginobili Ramirez (7 pounds, 9 ounces) was born last Sunday at San Antonio Metropolitan Methodist Hospital. See, aren't you glad I'm here?
(Speaking of Ginobili, he just made an impossible righty drive that would have gotten the old, "Here's Ginobili ... Yes! And the foul!" call from the sorely-missed Marv Albert. It's 67-55, Spurs.)
11:37 Hubie just mentioned that Tayshaun Prince can get his shot any time he wants. Agreed. But isn't that the case every game? If Prince was a baseball player, he would be Andruw Jones very good, extremely valuable, but someone who should be two to three times better and ultimately leaves you disappointed for some weird reason.
(By the way, the Spurs are blowing this game open they're up by 16 and the Pistons have a "Maybe if we stop trying now, we'll have more energy in Game 2" glow about them. So much for the best Finals matchup in 12 years.)
11:41 Fantastic closeup of Ginobili's budding bald spot. Highlight of the game so far.
11:46 You know, when they finally turn Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" into a movie, I just hope Bowen is available to play the part of Montresor. And yes, it's a 74-67 game the Pistons went small and crawled back into this thing. Maybe the Ben Wallace pseudo-benching will wake him up.
11:50 Wow. Wow. Wow. Ginobili just single-handedly buried this game first, he broke away from a double-team, split through the middle and jammed a lefty dunk home. Then he dribbled down the shot clock and drained a long three with a hand in his face. That was positively Bird-esque. Best of all, he hasn't flopped in this game once. Ebert and Roeper just gave him two thumbs way up.
11:52 Michaels and Hubie just did the "You may not be able to tell by the score, but this was a heckuva basketball game" routine again. Come on, guys. You sound like the host of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" when he says "We just witnessed five amazing performances!" only the performances were by Loverboy, The Knack, Tommy Tutone, Vanilla Ice and Tiffany.
11:54 Ginobili scored 22 points in the second half (including 15 in the fourth quarter) as Michaels jokes, "This just in 10 more kids were named Ginobili tonight." And Duncan finished with 24/17. Hey, as the old saying goes, "When you have the best two players in the series, you have the best two players in the series."
11:58 Our final score: Spurs 84, Pistons 69. Even though I'm rooting for the Spurs, here's some free advice for the Pistons for Game 2:
A. Stop running so many curls for Hamilton this isn't like Miami where Shaq was too lazy to pop out and guard him. San Antonio's bigs jump out on that play. So you need to target the two mismatches posting up Billups (on Parker) and Prince (on Ginobili). Both of those are guaranteed double teams and you might get one of them in foul trouble. I'm telling you.
B. Knock down Ginobili and Parker. Keep knocking them down. Knock them down a few more times after that. Nobody on the Spurs will stick up for them it's just not that kind of team. Hell, bring in Darko to commit a flagrant nobody will go after him because they'll all be in disbelief that he's in the game. But do something. This Spurs team is like the current Yankee team once you start throwing at them, not only will they not retaliate because they're so classy, they actually get bummed out. For example, the Red Sox have thrown at Derek Jeter roughly 275 times in the past season and a half. You think it's an accident? It's the only way they can get in his head. You need to do the same.
C. Any scenario that involves the phrase "Here's a wide-open Bowen!" is a situation you want to explore and possibly even provoke.
D. Tell Ben Wallace that Nazr Mohammed and Tim Duncan were making fun of his mom before Game 1 that might be the only way you can get Big Ben to start playing like he did before you won the title. Seriously, who's coasted more this spring, Ben Wallace or Manny Ramirez? It's a toss-up, right?
E. Pray for Dick Bavetta.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.