Under the Drain, Looking Up
I really could care less what happens in about an hour and a half. These whole playoffs, I've been trying to figure out how to write about "aura" without sounding either New Age-y or Benajmin-obsessed. In some ways, it boils down to the more acceptable "star quality," which I think I've thrown about at times. But it's about more than that. It cuts deeper, and gets to the very quidital heart of why these games have the power to transfix us.
I've always felt that one of the reasons people hate Kobe so much is that not only has he ripped off Jordan, but he's also mastered MJ's absolute mastery of the moment. And at this point, saying it rings hollow reflects back on you, the viewer, and turns you into the bitter, callous, unfeeling cynical zombie. Like that elimination game against Utah: Absolutely pitch-fucking-perfect. The ebb and flow of aggression, the amped-up sideline leadership, the obvious delight in the rolling team game, and down the stretch, those two neck-slicers in the face of a crowd that, even if 19,900 of them aren't totally crass, still are college-ugly. That was a champion's game, executed with real feeling and unmistakable panache. In its way, it was even more perfect than last year's LeBron-ocaust. It certainly topped James's performance earlier on Friday.
This isn't the same old "wants badly to win, heart of a champion" axis. It's not just "taking the game on your back when it counts." With Kobe, or Chris Paul, or Deron Williams, there's a sense throughout that they're both desperate and dignified, smacking back the slightest specter of dread while operating a level perceptibly higher than everyone else. This is stardom not only in name, or in numbers, but in end-to-end presence. We expect nothing less than execution, since they carry themselves like it's going to happen from the jump.
And here's why Celtics/Cavs is dead to me. We've lost all faith. We're sitting around waiting for proof, for pay-off, but long ago forgot how to turn on a game and feel an implicit promise wash over us. Now, we are in the realm of cold facts, talking points, rationality, and all the other drab stuff that, ironically, has the ring more of justification or clawed-in legitimization. Searching for energerization. It's the same route mortals have to follow, or the life support scrum of those falling from power, like what you routinely hear about the Spurs or Pistons (those who need talk the most. . . ). And sorry, but if we've gotten there, both LeBron and the Celtics have blown their otherworldly m.o.
Could one game transform all that? Would it take 60 points from LeBron? 20 in the first? One OT, or two? Does Garnett need a triple-double, or will the Big Three only ride again when we also get Pierce chipping in 30 and a fourth quarter from hell? See, just the fact that we're there shows that the dream has died. As criteria rear their ugly head, there's been a fall from grace, back into the realm of mortality and quite ordinary, non-resonant bean-counting. Or you can just decide that the Celtics really are older than we thought.
Some McLaughlin Group thoughts: Gene Page is wearing a tie with 45 adapter all over it. These people are greatly underestimating American Jews' intelligence, and willingness to actually read past the headline? Or at very least, that those with Israel tunnel vision know that country's history, and know about shit like Egypt. It's an insult to my people, even the ones who are old and borderline Republican, when we're talked about as so easily duped.
ADDENDUM: Upon having facts to examine...
I'm still not backing off this supremely dour post I wrote just before tip-off.
That was two scorers trading baskets and making their best effort to guard each other, despite neither being a top defender. No Big Three on the rampage, just Pierce working on LeBron. Garnett was limp and Allen on the bench. No James against world, either. Seemed to me like, once LeBron got space or got past Pierce, today he had no more trouble scoring against Boston than any other team that haphazardly throws people at him. This was also the absolute worst the rest of the Cavs have played, except for Delonte, so it's not like he was catching them off guard.
Except for that breakaway dunk, I never got chills or thought "something impossible could go down."
The Celtics, they might as well have been the Cavs, if you look at the box score. Nice to see Pierce get his once again, because this is the kind of player he is. But he was "hot", not dominant. Same for LeBron, actually. This was two guys trading baskets, taking advantage of opportunities, and never really appearing to overcome much of anything.
Try and write a script for this fucker and you'd be asleep in five minutes. And no way this even belongs in the same category as Carter/Iverson 2001 or Bron/Arenas 2006. Those were scorers' duels that really felt like battles for world supremacy, had a momentum to them, and also, of course, took place over an entire series. This was rote. Impressive, maybe, but rotely impressive.
I'm beginning to think that all of this is just me refusing to say I was wrong. So I'll stop, but I challenge you: Convince me that this wasn't piling up points out of necessity, the kind of thing that makes us take LeBron's scoring title for granted.