He Was Born in Hell
Everyone I talk to is worried about a anti-climactic contest tonight. Of course, after Thursday, Lazarus making hot chocolate at halftime would be an anti-climax. But even if all we get in a few hours is epilogue, and even if that epilogue is the (expected) Boston win, the convoluted history of this series tells tells us that there's no way it won't be eventful.
Before we all get completely consumed by pre-game hysteria, I wanted to briefly touch on the weird, weird Josh Smith scandal. Smith goes for the showtime dunk, on the break, during a blowout, and fails. He's lambasted for trying to show up or disrespect the Heat, personally apologizes to Coach Spoelstra (who publicly made many of these accusations) and explains that it was just to thank the fans. Confused? You also have Smith saying he'd do it again, and basically agreeing with Jalen Rose's analysis that the problem was the miss, not the attempt itself. Which is to say, he embarassed himself—had he made it, Smith would've had the whole world entranced. The Heat would've come off as petty whiners, or at very least, the dunk would've been so awesome as to insulate itself against criticism.
All this presumes that Smith needs to apologize for wanting to humilate the Heat, or that an insane dunk is purely self-indulgent. Last I checked, intimidation and making statements were really important in basketball, especially in the playoffs. Why, then, is Smith all of a sudden in "unsportsman-like" territory for trying to use a dunk to do just that? It was gratuitous when the Celtics ran up the score, and put on a show, to cap off last year's Finals victory, because in that case the series was over. But this one is still very much alive. Breakaway dunks can be momentum-changers in a game; why not think of this in the context of the series? While games have throat-slash moments, these events can pile up and carry over to the next one, too. The Heat had every right to take Smith's attempted dunk personally, and use it as motivation. That's because he was trying to punk them, put them in their place. That's about basketball, pride, and ego; there's absolutely no need for the finger-wagging and commenters dissecting the ethics of the situation.
It all comes back to this idea of there being "good" and "bad" forms of intimidation, or rather, "acceptable" and "tacky." Tough defense and physical play can throw off an opponent. As can talking. Or throwing down in traffic. Those are fair game in the pressure-cooker of the playoffs. But if Josh Smith goes for the showpiece dunk, it's him, not the Heat, who have some explaining to do? Isn't a long three in transition always outrageous and uncalled for? If I had a penny for every time someone old insisted that teams need to send a message with their defense, I'd be crushed to death. Why then, can't Josh Smith try and say to the Heat "fuck you, I can do whaetver I want against you." Isn't that his whole game? It's up to the other team to keep his one-man momentum bomb under wraps; as one of the studio guys observed in the pre-game last night, Miami immediately let Johnson get away with an uncontested dunk. Are there rules and regulations about when you're allowed to intimidate . . . or does that only apply to individual acts of offense? Because clearly, no one makes a fuss if a team lets up on defense once the outcome's decided. And running up the score can certainly be deployed selectively.
Smith's right—the problem is that he missed. That turned it into something frivolous, a sideshow subject to all sorts of bullshit moral high ground-grabbing. Smith is clueless, spoiled, disorganized, a disgrace to the game because he resorted to absurdity. Why was it absurd and excessive? It failed. If he'd pulled it off, it would be the Heat who would be feeling shame, no matter what the media decided to say about it.
If anyone wants to give him hell, they just focus on what a half-assed effort that was.The angle of approach was all wrong and Smith barely got off the ground. What a dick.