Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Unbearable Heaviness of Losing

Yes, I would've rather been watching basketball last night, instead of passing time before The Sopranos. (And the "half-season finale" was almost as much of a letdown as the Pistons 2005-06 season.) Of course I wanted to see this team compete for another NBA championship. But I was also kind of relieved to be watching something else. Because I think we saw the end coming during the Cleveland series. And if not then, it certainly became apparent after losing Game 4 to Miami. It had become painful to watch the Pistons on their slow march off the cliff, trying to stay alive in the face of inevitability.

Was Miami just the better team, as Complete Sports says? I have trouble believing that, but I still haven't taken off my Pistons-colored glasses yet. This reminds me, however, of an argument I had ten years ago with my girlfriend's New Englander roommate. Michigan had just beaten Boston University in the NCAA hockey tournament, but Chowdahead maintained that BU was the better team. "Well, if they're the better team," I said, "why didn't they win?" She didn't have an answer then, and I'm not sure I have one now.

But the Heat was definitely hungrier. And that desire gave them enough fuel to surpass Detroit.

What's surprising is how it all unraveled. It wasn't the Pistons' defense that failed them (though the Detroit News' Bob Wojnowski feels differently), but their offense. And it wasn't necessarily because of an increased emphasis on offense. The Pistons lost because they suddenly could not shoot. Scoring 80 points became a struggle for this team. Even with their season on the line, as Big Al points out, the Pistons managed a feeble effort.

During this run of excellence, when the Pistons lost games, it was typically because their jump shots weren't falling. And you could expect that to happen in one or two games during a playoff series. But for an 11-game stretch? When did bad shooting go from the exception to the rule? Ever since Game 2 of the Cleveland series, when the LeBrons turned a blowout into a close game, the Pistons lost something. Did they hit the wall at that point? Is that when all the basketball they've played over the past four years finally caught up with them?

To me, this season proved one thing: A team can't just turn it on. Maybe you already knew that. I did, too, but kept thinking the Pistons might be the first team to do it successfully. A team can't keep creating challenges for itself, digging itself into deep holes, in order to stay interested and motivated. The other team will provide enough opposition, as it is. There's only so much energy to tap. And a team can't squander it. The Pistons certainly tapped themselves out against Cleveland, and just had nothing left for Miami.

But maybe Detroit burned up too much fuel in the regular season when they peaked extremely early. Is there such a thing as being too good? I think there might be - at least in the regular season. Ask the Red Wings what they think of that. Ask the Indianapolis Colts. Ask any team that's playing its best long before the playoffs have arrived. The Pistons were ready to win a championship back in November. Unfortunately, the NBA Finals aren't played until June.

I'll finish with one more thought: I was wrong.

I thought Miami tinkered way too much with its roster last offseason. The Heat were arguably one Dwyane Wade rib injury away from beating Detroit, yet Pat Riley overhauled half of the team. Riley did the same thing with the Knicks, taking a tough team that gave Chicago all it could handle, and neutered it by making too many changes.

And look who he brought in. Antoine Walker on the floor with Shaq and Wade? C'mon, who thought that would work? By January, someone would be crying about getting the ball, right? Shaq and Wade standing with hands on hips, as Walker jacks up a stupid three? Sure.

Jason Williams as the point guard? Oooh, he likes to shoot, too. More shots taken away from Shaq and Wade. Gary Payton? Excuse me, Gary Payton from 2003 just called. He's wondering where his game went. James Posey? Solid role player, but not usually someone the other team accounts for on defense.

And what about Riley himself? Was he still a good coach or were his methods and philosophies - most of which made for some of the worst NBA basketball we'd seen over the past 10-15 years - past their prime? Was he a coaching dinosaur who made a better executive? And why replace Stan Van Gundy, who came so close to beating Detroit?

Well, it worked. At least in getting past Detroit. Somehow, Riley made it all come together. We'll see if the tinkering can yield a championship. That'll give me something else to chew on over the next couple of weeks, as I decide whether or not I can watch other teams compete for a NBA title I - and many, many others - probably took for granted.

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  • At June 05, 2006 11:23 AM, Blogger Pradamaster said…

    Detroit's struggles at the end remind me completely of Uconn at the end of the college basketball season. Ever since Gerry McNamara hit that 30 foot three in the Big East tournament, Connecticut played every game out of sync. Everyone figured that, at some point, they would turn it on and go back to being Uconn, but it never really happened, save for some stretches in the Washington game (which they were lucky to win). When they finally lost to George Mason, they were seen as one of the most underachieving teams in college basketball history.

    The same thing seemed to happen to Detroit after Game 2 of the Cavs series, as you mentioned. Many felt like Detroit could simply turn it on, and it just never happened. I agree with you, hats off to Miami, but Detroit was never the same team after Game 2 against Cleveland. Had they played at the top of their game, I think they would have beaten Miami

  • At June 05, 2006 3:41 PM, Blogger twins15 said…

    Let me say that Detroit was obviously the better team throughout the season, but I thought that towards the end of the year and into the playoffs, the Heat really started to come together and play really well together, and with that talent I don't think it's a stretch to say they were the better team than Detroit. Dwyane Wade is one of the top 3 or 4 players in the NBA, Shaq showed at times that he can still be an unstoppable rebel force, and Walker and J Williams are excellent role players when they don't try to do too much.

    I'd say they were about evenly matched, but there's no question in my mind that the series wasn't determined by Detroit not being able to "turn it on", it was more about Miami playing really, really well.

  • At June 05, 2006 11:03 PM, Anonymous Evan said…

    The execution of Flip's offense in the post-season was piss poor, end of story. The players on the court decided to settle for one-on-ones, jump shots, and low percentage 3-pointers when they should have been cutting, moving, and dunking on people's asses. Miami is half the defensive team that Cleveland was, and we couldn't score? Crap. Total crap.

    The bottom line is that the guys on the floor were tired, injured, mentally out of it, and/or any number of other things that screwed up how they played.

    Joe said today he's going to bring back the top six guys for sure. So the starting five and McDyess are back.

    I think there's little to no doubt that Amir Johnson is staying with the team in some role, even if it's just developmental. Joe also said today in an interview that he admitted to Delfino that he thinks Carlos has been underdeveloped. So he probably stays.

    Hunter probably retires, and Delk isn't a long-term stay. Kato goes. And Dale Davis may or may not hang on as a bench player again.

    So that leaves 3-4 spots.

    I think he looks for the best damn point guard he can find to back up Chauncey. I don't know that many free agents' names for this year, but Bonzi Wells is supposedly available. He's a head case, but supposedly, so was Rasheed. And while he vanished in the playoffs, he also helped win us a title. So I wouldn't discount that as a possibility, though he'd have to take a hefty pay cut to play here. Beyond that, whatever steady, all-around solid point guard is out there is who Joe will go after, I'm sure. Assuming Delfino becomes Rip's backup, I'm guessing Dumars replaces Mo Evans. He clearly has the build and athleticism and energy the Pistons are looking for, but Flip must have been unimpressed with him as his minutes dried up in a hurry.

    I don't know exctly what happens, but I think Joe is taking the right approach with this. We might end up with two first round draft picks next year in addition to the rights to Delfino, Johnson, Maxiell, and maybe Acker. You also have highly tradeable players minus Rasheed and his giant contract. That's a lot of possibilities...no guarantees...but certainly options. So why not take one more swing at it next year? A few less minutes for the starters in the regular season, a better developed bench, and the anger of losing to the Heat and actually being the underdog again and who knows???


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