Smoke, Meet Steam
First, sobs all around. We'll have to wait another year for The New NBA to dawn in earnest. That said, I'm driving around West Texas for most of next week, and gutting this road trip to suit the Eastern Conference Finals would have been, to say the least, an inconvenience for all those involved.
I'm starting in on this early, at the end of the third, because I'm getting a disgustingly ripe smack of deja vu right across the face. These Cavs have done something remarkable, but in a seven-game series against a legit contendor they were bound to get definitively exposed at some point. They managed three remarkable games of molten courage, including wresting away home court advantage and giving themselves two chances to eliminate everyone's stolid pick to win it all. It was only a matter of time, though, before they came back to earth with a vengeance; you could argue that it began when they failed to take advantage of the Pistons' mistakes on Friday, or something about momentum and home court. But today, you're really seeing what it comes down to. Just as there was no way that Kobe et al. could really have ever expected to slay the Suns (making their squandering of 3-1 more forgivable), the Cavs simply aren't as good as the Pistons. A freakish upset would've been nice, but that nagging, sinking feeling you felt all afternoon was the realization that your dreams of James/Wade were living on borrowed time.
(Maybe this will also put to rest the whole "Kobe quit" controversy, since Our Lord and Savior didn't exactly put up the most sparkling second half numbers.)
As much as I'd wanted this over on Friday, this series kind of had to go seven. If LeBron was going to pull this off and steal the crown away from the Association's reigning favorites, it had to be certifiable. No goofy four game win streak that could just be more evidence that the very rhythms of the universe, or at least Stern and ABC, favor LeBron and all those who graze about him. Seven hard-bitten games could leave no mistake that the winner deserved it, whoever it ended up as. I'm also sure that, in some way, the Pistons having to go seven helped them recapture their forgotten grip on the postseason, which many of us had feared (or hoped, for a variety of reasons) lost in the wake of Flip's Campaign for Change. I've thought a couple of times over this past week that the Pistons and Spurs play their best when asked to in no uncertain terms close things out, as if they've figured out that only the final quarter or the risk of hittin' the planks are worth their energy. That either makes them objectionably arrogant gamblers, pioneers of efficiency and game theory, or the biggest narrative teases in the history of the Association's second season.
Many have said this already, but I think it's abundantly clear now that LeBron will have his day. Would we rather see it pulled off as an improbable, slightly uncomfortable and undeserved, feat of circumstance, or witness him trundle into battle with the army of proud, sturdy chariots befitting his legend? I'm all for as much James as possible, but watching the rest of the Cavs throw up brick after brick hardly makes me feel like it's the right thing for me—or him—at present time. The Pistons are mortal, the Cavs capable of rising to the occasion, and LeBron the unquestioned future of this sport. In next season's playoffs, I want be sure that it's Bron and the Cavs' worth, not the Pistons' flaws and occasional hubris, that make it a series. Spending three hours waiting for reality to come crashing down is hardly what I'd call an enjoyable viewing experience, and remember, LeBron-as-lovable-underdog is never going to sit right with me. Overcoming the odds is one thing, but LeBron James and dumb luck just don't belong in the same sentence.