I had those fingers crossed
Fuck everything you heard from me. This whole time, coarsing through the noose of morass I've draped around this postseason, was this one central assumption: LeBron, for all his primacy, could not take out the Pistons. In fact, I hadn't even bothered until yesterday to insert that dazzling asterik: a possible Wade/James Conference Finals, which would be just about the most FreeDarko thing imaginable (since we value winning and all). I'm not flinching on my overall assessment of Wade, but I do know that their late-season tango this spring was up there with the most amazing two man duels I've had the privilege of assaying.
This was the most astounding playoff victory since Iverson briefly slew Goliath. Even if they'd lost, I'd probably be saying this, but under those circumstances, in that arena, against that team. . .I am not a very demonstrative man, and still I'm dragging my jawpiece around the floor as I pace the living room. Then again, it did come after almost as important an upset in the world of high-stakes televised competition:
In retrospect, I feel a little stupid having bled so much hyperbole over him in Round 1. Yes, those were inspired, aesthetically impeccable performances, the kind of thing you'd carve out of soap if you had a long, long time to think about a sport you would never see again. As I noted after the Cavs' second win, this LeBron looked much more like an actual basketball player in a supremely challenging situation, as opposed to the sport's life force running wild. However, watching James subtlely manufacture that win was one of the most transcendent feelings of my entire sports viewing life. He was rarely fancy, not glaringly determined, and more concerned with almost trivial variations on "the little things" than some sort of operatic arc. What that win meant, though, is more impressive than two thousands liters of scalding highlights. LeBron James, one man, is seriously going toe-to-toe with perhaps the best pure team since Jordan's Bulls. He has next to nothing on his side, yet props up his troops for one last ragged ride without any of the ceremony of Kobe's semi-triumphs. Most mind-blowing, though, is that I'm hardly incriminating Kobe—LeBron is just that next level when it comes to influencing the flow and shape of the action.
(I guess you can put this on the Pistons. They fell apart. Three times in a row? By a team built on the rock of balance and patience? Suddenly they're cocky and prone to sloppiness? Does this really seem more likely than LeBron changing the way we understand this entire season that's just transpired?)
Speculation is useless because, for once, LeBron has exceeded expectations and thrown a low-blow to the logic he's meant to embody. This was not the plan; this was not the script he'd been handed, the Jordan-like humbling at the hands of an anti-heroic bunch of walking nettles. At this point, thinking that LeBron is capable of pulling off absolutely anything is not cynicism or the sign of a sucker—it's proof that you've really, truly been watching the games.
For all of you who were deeply concerned about the state of my relationship with the NBA. . .I am still on the verge of tears and having the time of my life watching Mavs/Spurs. Silverbird accurately explained this as my "playoff conversion," meaning that anything I said before was the work of a troubled, aimless soul.