The man inside
I'm going to perform something that anyone out to get me might consider a tremendous about-face: the Playoffs are indeed a time of growth and learning. I still don't buy this business that the last man standing is the only one eligible for the MVP (the logical extension of "Bron and Kobe are gone, so it's down to Wade and Dirk for best in league"), or that teams/players can be judged solely according to a few flicks of the fates' slender wrists. In other words, this isn't the NCAA's, when some bullshit school catches fire or springs from the deepest recesses of nowhere to craft a strong identity, make a statement, and ride this confidence all the way across the lavender river. But what we're seeing with Dallas—a team I wanted badly to like all year but always just saw as Josh Howard, slightly de-splendered Dirk, a bunch of pissed-off vets, and Marquis Daniels wasting away—is that the Playoffs bring out the colors most true. Deep down inside, Dirk always was a full-fledged monster, and his team a charismatic bunch of bad-asses. And let's not forget the Little General, who went from the man looking to Popify the Mavs to the one person capable of envisioning a marriage of the Spurs and the Suns, capable of besting either team while pointing the way toward the future.
At the same time, I felt both vindicated and sad once it became clear the Suns were down for the celestial count. All the splendid ball movement, sublime Barbosa moves, catalytic Nash dribbling, and that brief, wondrous window into the Barbosa/Diaw chemsitry hitting its stride, it still all added up to the emperor in his most gaudy. Tim Thomas came crashing back to earth, I didn't even notice if Raja Bell was on the court (mostly cause I wasn't told of it incessantly) and most of all, Dallas proved that as miraculous as this season has been for Phoenix, Amare is a good fifty-percent of their long-term might. Every bit of grit, mischief, and flat-out violence they could've used to elbow their way back into a game that had clipped their wings, that was all sitting on the bench, looking as terrifyingly dapper as ever. I suddenly got tired of resenting Nash and his so necessary self-seriousness; without it, this team would've long ago been found out. Amare, though, would provide the ballast and menace, allowing Nash to be the bewitching creator he was last season. Pride may complete Dirk, but it forces Nash to play the role of head and heart, something that just doesn't agree with his etheral ways. The same goes for Marion, who was built to confuse from afar rather than stand front and center as the dulcet nightmare.
I look forward most droolishly to the '06-'07 Suns, who, if they go with Nash, Amare, Marion, Diaw, and a more mature Barbosa will probably surpass '05 as my favorite team ever. Barbosa and Diaw definitely win out over Joey Johnson and Q, who now even has real competition for that nickname. Can someone please explain what happened to his career? Is he evidence that playing with Nash can do more harm than good?
Tonight I bid Doctor Sleep hello with a certain amount of calm at heart: a fairly unexpected Finals match-up, clear-cut heroes and villians (for me, at least), and the utterly predictable possibility that I might have to miss the last game. I know that I've bitched a lot about this NBA season, but this endgame has me feeling like when all is said and done, I may have been shown a new way to believe.