Fascinating Game 7 last night. Miami had Detroit on the ropes with five or six different possessions in the final quarter, but every time that happened, the Heat always ended up getting a bad shot (how 'bout some of those Keyon Dooling possessions???) and allowed the Pistons to hang around. Even when Shaq was looking unstoppable down the stretch, I thought they were pulling it out.
And then this sequence happened:
2:02 remaining, Miami up 2 Shaq kicks it back out from a double-team; Damon Jones (truly atrocious for the entire game) isn't patient enough, penetrates, leaves his feet (Bob Cousy's ultimate no-no) and throws the ball away. Detroit roars down the court and executes a flawless fast break for a Hamilton layup. Tie score. Seriously, how many teams in the league would have gotten two points off that Jones play? Two? Three?
1:45, tie game Shaq gets fouled, makes one of two FTs.
1:25, Miami up 1 Rasheed posts up, draws a foul, makes both FTs.
1:15, Miami down 1 Wade takes a terrible jumper with 15 seconds on the shot clock.
0:56, Miami down 1 Prince misses driving layup; Rasheed tips it in for two.
0:47, Miami down 3 Wade tied up on out-of-control, Pierce-like spin drive. Pistons win the jump ball. Of course they do.
0:20, Miami down 3 Detroit runs shot clock down to last few seconds; Prince gets stripped, Miami gets a pseudo fast break in which Jones gets fouled (horrible call, by the way). Jones misses 1 of 2.
0:17, Miami down 2 Billups fouled, makes both.
0:12, Miami down 4 Alley-oop for Shaq.
0:11, Miami down 2 Billups fouled, makes both. Game over.
Bottom line: If you allow these Pistons to hang around, you can't screw up against them in crunch time. The way Detroit takes care of business in tight games is positively Belichick-esque. That's why they won.
So the question remains: Would Miami have won this game with a healthy Dwyane Wade? I say yes, and here's why: With the exception of one productive stretch in the third quarter, he couldn't have played worse he took bad shots, tried to do too much, didn't give them any rebounding or fast-break points. Clearly, he was three steps beyond hampered by that rib injury (note: I thought the Heat were playing possum by keeping him out of Game 6). If you were grading Game 7 against every other performance from the season, you would probably give him a D or a D-plus, and still, Miami nearly won the game. So if Wade was a B-plus instead of a D-plus in Game 7, what would have happened? You have to think Miami wins, right?
But here's the thing: Wade took an inordinate amount of punishment all season because he hasn't learned how to pick his spots yet. Just two weeks ago, I read a Sports Illustrated feature about him that brought up his reckless drives and the whacks he's taken from bigger guys, and Wade said something to the effect of, "I'm a young guy; I've been getting knocked down since I was 4 years old, so I know how to fall so I don't get injured."
Well, that's crazy. You can't play a 100-game season, take eight or nine football-type hits every game and expect your body to hold up. When Wade's body finally gave out, it happened during a blowout in Game 5 on a simple crossover move he probably made 5,000 times this season crossover, two steps to the left, elevate, release certainly not the type of play that potentially should end someone's season. It was like his body finally gave out, almost like a car engine that just won't start one morning.
And that's why I don't think people should play the "Pistons were lucky to win the series" card. The bottom line was Wade carried a superhuman load for Miami all season almost like a 450-carry season for an NFL running back and only because his supporting cast wasn't good enough to assume some of that burden. When he finally broke down and needed some help, the Heat didn't have enough talent to help him. That's why they lost. Over a 100-game season, Detroit was a slightly better all-around team.
Two other notes while we're here:
1. The Pistons possibly would have beaten the '87 Celtics if Dantley and the Microwave didn't crack heads in Game 7, and they would have won the '88 title if Isiah didn't sprain his ankle in Game 6. So if anyone was due for a break of "the best opposing player suffering a debilitating injury right as his team was taking control of the series" caliber, it was the Detroit Pistons. Between Wade's injury and Fisher making the miracle shot last spring allowing them to avoid the Spurs and play the Lakers instead (a much better matchup for them) I think we're finally even.
2. Whenever people start the "Who was the best NBA champ ever?" argument, they never take into account what happened the year after the title. Shouldn't the way you defended the title be factored into the overall greatness of that particular team? For instance, the '83 Sixers are considered to be one of the greatest teams ever, but they couldn't even get out of the first round against the Nets the next year. Shouldn't that matter? Anyway, you have to hand it to the 2005 Pistons. Maybe they aren't as good as last year's team case in point: Poor Rip Hamilton had to play 48 minutes last night, which had to be the stat of the playoffs so far but they rose to the occasion when it mattered. I didn't think they had it in them.
(Note to self: Probably not a good idea to underestimate the defending champs in a big game again.)
Posted: June 7, 2005, at 2:31 p.m. ET
Here's how I think tonight's Game 7 goes down:
8:00 EST TNT kicks off the telecast with goose bump-provoking slow motion footage of Dwyane Wade walking onto the court for the pregame warm-ups, accompanied by a song that was released at least 20 years ago.
8:04 Our first ad for "The Closer," premiering June 13 only on TNT!
8:04 Guys in their 30s across the country mutter to themselves, "Man, what happened to Kyra Sedgwick?"
8:10 TNT's "Inside the NBA" crew makes their predictions. Magic takes Miami because, "When it's winnin' time, you need the big fella on your side, and when the big fella's on your side, it's winnin' time!" Kenny takes Detroit because of "playoff experience these guys have been here before." And Charles takes Detroit because "Number one, they have another gear. First of all, that's the most important thing in a Game 7, because number one, you need that second gear. And if you don't have that second gear, then first of all, you better have your best players healthy, and number one, Dwyane Wade isn't healthy."
8:20 With Wade limping onto the court in the starting lineup, Marv Albert pulls the "Maybe this doesn't have the same significance as Willis Reed in the 1970 Finals but you can't help but think of Willis as we see Dwyane Wade trying to gut his way through this do-or-die Game 7 "
8:35 Miami jumps out to an early 9-4 lead on 3s from Damon Jones, Eddie Jones and Wade (which brings down the house). Larry Brown calls a quick timeout and contemplates sneaking out of the building like D.C. Dacey in the middle of the final game in "Fast Break."
8:45 Doug Collins remembers the time he was playing for Philadelphia and tried to play hurt in a big playoff game: "When the crowd gets behind you, the adrenaline takes over and you stop thinking about the injury altogether."
8:50 Shot of Darko laughing on the bench at one of Antonio McDyess' jokes.
8:55 With the Pistons behind 17-10, the first round of Detroit fans start making snide, "Man, it would have been nice if Ben Wallace showed up for this series" comments.
9:00 Wade goes coast-to-coast with a gorgeous finish he has nine points as the Heat lead by 13. The nation prepares for a Tuesday of sportswriters screaming: "Dwyane Wade is the next Michael Jordan!" on various TV and radio shows.
9:05 With Miami leading by 16 and shooting 73 percent, we see our first shot of Larry Brown making his "To Do List" for his Cleveland move. By the way, you're not going to believe this, but Alonzo Mourning just blocked someone's shot, then pumped his fist a few times and acted like an idiot.
9:07 Rasheed Wallace gets a technical for arguing a charge call from referee Dick Bavetta, who high-fives Jamie Foxx on his way back up the court.
9:10 Shot of Darko laughing on the bench at one of Carlos Arroyo's jokes.
9:15 With 5:00 to go in the first half, Miami's bench extends the lead to 19 as the crowd goes bonkers, followed by Mourning doing 37 different Hulk Hogan-like muscle flexes.
9:25 Wade gets knocked down hard on a drive to the basket, then takes about three minutes to get up. High drama. Doug Collins immediately remembers the time he was knocked down during the 1977 Finals by Maurice Lucas, adding, "I felt like I had been steamrolled by a freight train."
9:30 Our halftime score: Miami 56, Detroit 38. The Pistons are shooting 29 percent from the field and have a "if we lose this game, last year's championship still counts, right?" glow about them. Meanwhile, Craig Sager and Shaq have this exchange:
Sager: "Shaq, you're up by 18, what went right for you guys in that first half?"
Shaq: "Before I answer that, I want to send my respects out to Mark Felt, the guy who turned out to be Deep Throat and helped end Richard Nixon's presidency. Mr. Felt, we all appreciate what you did for this country. Thanks for the sacrifices you made."
Sager: "Thanks for those thoughts, Shaq."
Shaq: "I'm a huge Gatewater buff."
9:40 During TNT's halftime show, Barkley breaks down the series as so: "First of all, I can't believe the Pistons didn't come out with more intensity. I mean, number one, they look flat. If you can't get fired up for a Game 7 first of all, they should have to give back last year's trophy. And second of all, I can't believe those boys are the defending champs! When I was playing well, number one, you practically had to cut Magic and Larry's heads off to take their titles from them. Because, first of all, those guys were great players "
9:47 Our 30th promo for "The Closer," premiering June 13 on TNT!
9:54 An inspired Pistons team rattles off a 7-0 run at the beginning of the third, forcing Miami coach Ron Jeremy to call timeout.
10:03 Shot of Darko laughing on the bench at one of Darvin Ham's jokes.
10:10 Shaq simply takes over the game after Ben Wallace's fourth foul two dunks and two jump hooks over Elden Campbell, the last one followed by his thing where he staggers back upcourt in the little happy half-crouch. Down by 20 again, Larry Brown quickly calls timeout and looks like he ate a bad egg sandwich.
10:13 Isolated on the right side, Tayshaun Prince effortlessly takes Wade off the dribble for a lefty layup, prompting everyone around the country to ask the same question: "Why doesn't Tayshaun Prince average 25 points a game? What are we missing here?"
10:16 Albert: "Here's Wade in transition ohhhhhhhhhhh! What a move by Dwyane Wade who doesn't look like he's feeling the effects from that debilitating rib injury "
10:16 Doug Collins remembers the time when he played for the Sixers and Doctor J. dropped 44 on the Celtics despite suffering from a painful charley horse.
10:25 Down by 24 heading into the fourth, the Pistons have officially packed it in leading to the inevitable Rasheed Wallace second technical/meltdown/rip-off-his-jersey-as-he's-storming-off sequence. That's right, you can take Rasheed out of Portland, but you can't take the Portland out of Rasheed.
10:29 Craig Sager interviews Jamie Foxx, who seems incredibly pleased with himself and uses the word "Man" a lot. Did you know he's filming "Miami Vice" right now? Were you aware of this?
10:33 Alonzo Mourning rams home a follow-up rebound, then reenacts the Ultimate Warrior's entrance for the main event of WrestleMania VII as the Pistons glance at one another thinking, "We can't cheap-shot him because he only has one kidney, right?"
10:43 With 4:00 minutes to play, leading by 20, Jeremy removes Wade from the game who gets a big hug from Shaq and a standing O from the 3,000 Miami pseudo-fans who didn't sprint for the exits at the end of the third quarter.
10:46 Here comes Darko!
10:48 Darko from 3 no good!
10:49 Shot of Shaq and Damon Jones performing some sort of organized rap song/dance routine on the bench in the final minute as Marv Albert says, "Shaquille O'Neal and his buddy Damon Jones enjoying themselves as the clock winds down to the final minute."
10:53 Our final score: Miami 101, Detroit 73. Miami is headed to the Finals.
10:56 Sager interviews Wade (25 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds), who tells him that, "The rib was bothering me, but it's a Game 7, you just have to gut it out." He's being heavily guarded by four Converse execs who are trying to keep him away from anyone wearing a Nike hat.
11:00 The TNT Crew sums it up best
Kenny: "Too much Dwyane Wade, too much Shaq, not enough energy from the Pistons. That's the bottom line."
Barkley: "Number one, I thought Dwyane Wade was fantastic. That boy can play. And first of all, nobody understands how hard it is to play hurt, because number one, the other team knows you can't do the stuff you normally do "
Magic: "Here's the thing though, here's the thing for Dwyane Wade, it was all about winnin' time. When it's winnin' time, superstars play like superstars. Injuries don't matter. Ribs don't matter. Winnin' time is winnin' time."
Ernie: "And speaking of winnin' time, don't forget about the world premiere of 'The Closer,' June 13 on TNT!"
Posted: June 6, 2005, at 4:06 p.m. ET
Here's the mailbag question that we excised from Wednesday's column for space reasons (I even added a few things):
Q: Let me see if I can properly capture the tone of a typical sports journalist these days:
After Round 2 of the NBA playoffs: "OH MY GOD DWYANE WADE MIGHT BE HAVING THE BEST POSTSEASON OF ALL TIME! HE SHOULD BE MVP AHHHHHHHH!!!!"
After the first game of Round 3: "MY GOD THE PISTONS HAVE STOPPED DWYANE WADE!!! IS THERE ANYBODY MORE OVERRATED IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS THAN DWYANE WADE AHHHHHHHH?!?!?!?!?"
Good lord. Reading some of the NBA columns out there these days is like trying to win an argument with my wife.
Lucien Eldred, Newport Beach, Calif.
SG: I agree. Everyone seems to be rushing to make the next outrageous proclamation "Shawn Marion is absolutely choking in this series!" or "Larry Brown's flirtation with the Cavs is going to kill this Pistons team!" and nobody seems to put thought into what they're saying. So I put some time into the following few thoughts:
1. Wade does remind me of MJ, but not young MJ. He reminds me more of the post-baseball version of MJ, the one who picked his spots, absorbed a steady stream of punishment and always found ways to get to the rim (even though he wasn't the same phenomenal leaper anymore). That version of MJ would get his teammates involved early and take over late, always made one or two crucial plays on the defensive end and always grabbed that clinching rebound to put the game away. Wade does all of those things, but he doesn't have the reliable turnaround that MJ had in the mid-'90s, and he's not the same defensive player. As Barkley pointed out, MJ would have scored 35-40 a night and guarded Rip Hamilton and fought through all those screens.
Here's the point: Wade has a chance to become one of the best 20 players of all-time, maybe even as good as Jordan was. But why do we have to rush it? What's the hurry? Let's see how he makes out in the next three weeks before we start throwing the full-fledged MJ comparisons around.
2. Other than Wade's becoming a household name, the other major event of the playoffs was Amare Stoudemire's emergence into "Holy crap, there's never been anyone in the history of basketball quite like this!" territory. He's not a voracious rebounder like Young Moses Malone, but he's three times more unstoppable attacking the rim. He's not the same revolutionary talent that Young Shawn Kemp was, but he's a much more explosive offensive player and more of an all-around force (he's like the Evolutionary Kemp). Other than that, who would you compare him to? Nobody.
And this goes back to the whole "Nash for MVP" argument. Before the conference finals, let's say David Stern gave Gregg Popovich the following choice: "Gregg, we want you to make the finals again ... we're letting you remove one player from Phoenix' roster so you have a better chance to win, any player of your choice." Well, do you really think Popovich would have chosen Nash over Stoudemire? In a million years?
(And while we're here, the 2005 MVP was the fourth-best player on the court in the conference finals behind Duncan, Ginobili, and Stoudemire. It warrants mentioning.)
3. Best point that I didn't hear one person make all week: If Joe Johnson was healthy, that Suns-Spurs series would have gone seven games.
4. Second-best point I didn't hear one person make all week: Nazr Mohammed has averaged 23.1 minutes per game for the Spurs, putting up eight points and seven rebounds a game ... and none of the other Western Conference playoff teams has protested that Knicks trade from last February yet.
5. The officiating has never been worse. Ever. It's getting to the point that you know how these games will turn out just by how the calls are going (like Game 5 of the Pacers-Celtics series, Game 4 of the Nuggets-Spurs series and Game 3 of the Pistons-Heat series, to name three). Forget about contract lengths, age limits for rookies and everything else this is absolutely the biggest problem in the NBA right now. They don't have five referees anymore who can control a game and not get affected by the crowd. How does this even get fixed?
(One other note: Every time the home team needs to win to make the series more interesting, you can count on the three worst referees possible to officiate that game the guys most likely to get swayed by the crowd. For instance, where can I wager that Bennett Salvatore will be one of the referees for tonight's Game 5 in Miami? Last week, I predicted Miami's getting a 75-9 free throw advantage for Game 5 ... I'd like to change that to 84-8.)
6. Since those interviews right at the end of the first half are always so useless (with the exception of Tony Parker's accidentally spitting on Jim Gray this weekend), I have an idea to spruce things up: You know how horse racing always has the best post-game interviews because the reporter always has to ride the horse next to the winning jockey? Takes a certain amount of skill to juggle two things at once, right? Well, we can't put Jim Gray and Michele Tafoya on horses, but I have another idea what if they were driving a golf cart, and they had to drive the player back to the locker room while they interviewed them? That's all I need. Just add a little degree of difficulty and I'm riveted.
7. If you didn't know, our pal Paul Shirley is writing a playoff blog for Suns.com. I thought the Tom Arnold stuff was really funny.
8. The Bill Russell/Rick Fox debacle on Monday night was almost unparalleled. The thing about Bruce Bowen (25 second pause)... is that he's a good defender (20-second pause)... and the reason he's a good defender (10-second pause)... is that he moves his legs (50-second pause)... and knows how to defend (20-second pause). I can't even believe this stuff still happens. It's the Conference Finals! This isn't like an episode of "CSI" during May Sweeps, where CBS finds 2 or 3 celebrity guest stars for stunt casting purposes and doesn't lose anything out of the actual show. Shouldn't we have people who are comfortable on TV and know what they're talking about? Or am I asking too much here?
9. I don't want to jinx it, but I think Sean Marks is becoming the new Jack Haley.
10. When you're judging a team historically, as I have argued in the past, how they defended their title should weigh into it. And I'm bringing this up only because the Pistons don't seem that hungry to me they lay the smack down, relax, wait until their backs are pushed against the wall, and then they relax again. It's not like they won three straight titles or something. They just seem awfully comfortable to me. Not to sound like Bill Walton, but show some pride, fellas! Show some pride! It's the NBA Conference Finals! That's terrible! That's just terrible!
Bottom line: Except for Wade's ongoing brilliance, a couple of Reggie Miller moments and that bizarre Celtics-Pacers game where Perkins had to shoot the free throws, the Eastern Conference playoffs have been an unequivocal dud. As for the West, it's been fun to watch the Spurs; I enjoyed Nash's last three games against Dallas; Stoudemire was breathtaking; T-Mac had a couple of moments; Ray Allen's 45-point game was fun; and Ginobili has emerged into a fascinating hybrid where you love to watch him, you'd love to play with him and you love to hate him (at least I do). But other than that ... blah. Wildly disappointing playoffs so far. Hopefully the finals will make up for it.
Posted: June 2, 2005, at 3:46 p.m. ET
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.