Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Friday, June 01, 2007

Some Guys Actually Live Up To the Hype: Touché, LeBron

I really want to complain, but it's not going to accomplish anything.

I'd love to devote 500+ words to how someone in a Pistons uniform should've fouled LeBron James at the end of last night's second overtime, and made him earn a victory. Maybe I'm showing my age here, but I grew up in the "no easy layups" era of basketball. It's what I saw on TV, it's what I experienced on the playground.

That's not to say LeBron's game-winner wasn't an easy shot. He was surrounded by Detroit Pistons. Yet LeBron sliced right through four of them, neither of whom forced him to change his shot. Jason Maxiell should've come down harder LeBron's arms, making it virtually impossible for him to bring the ball above his waist. And instead of just standing on the edge of the lane, Rip Hamilton should've stepped toward the basket and at least tried to obstruct LeBron's path to the basket.

But maybe it wouldn't have even mattered. As much of a cliche as it might be, sometimes a player just refuses to lose and can't be stopped. The truth is, LeBron had already earned a win before his winning shot with two seconds left in the game. You've already heard or read the stats. You'll be hearing them all day today on TV and radio. LeBron scored 48 total points. The Cavaliers' final 25 points, and 29 of their last 30 were his. Unlike Marv Albert, I have difficulty declaring something I just watched an "all-time" performance. Once the shock wears off, I'm sure I'll be able to compare what I saw to all the other basketball I've observed in my lifetime.

For right now, however, I still can't believe LeBron was able to win a playoff game - likely the most crucial in the series - on a frickin' layup. Long after the game ended, after LeBron had his post-game chat with Craig Sager, I kept rewinding those final seconds and watching them over and over in some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder loop, like a turntable needle that just can't skip over a scratch in a vinyl record. How... in... the hell did the Pistons just let him... spring to the basket like that?

I'd also love to complain about Antonio McDyess getting inexplicably ejected from the game just before the end of the first quarter. Was it a hard foul? Absolutely. That was a clothesline smack straight out of professional wrestling. Anderson Varejao didn't have to fake a fall because McDyess knocked him right to the floor.

But getting thrown out of the game for that? Don't we see that kind of foul all the time? Sure, McDyess deserved a technical foul. You have to suffer some kind of penalty for decking a player off his feet.

However, the referees wildly overreacted in trying to make sure that sort of rough tone wasn't established upon the rest of the game. This was obviously a trigger-happy response to the hard fouls by Chris Webber and Drew Gooden in Game 4. But you can't send a player to the showers on a play like that.

I'm not saying the ejection decided the outcome. It happened far too early in the game, and the Pistons only ended up losing by two points. Besides, McDyess' absence forced Chris Webber to return from the side of whatever milk carton his picture was on, and contribute 20 sorely needed points. But would McDyess have at least tried to prevent LeBron from getting to the basket at the end of the second overtime? Unfortunately, we'll never know.

We also might never know what McDyess would've contributed to Game 6, as the very real possibility exists that he'll be suspended because of that flagrant foul, which is taking this heightened sensitivity toward rough basketball to an entirely too high level of overreaction. Clearly, those are the ground rules the NBA wants to set. I think it absolutely #$@%ing stinks. And I'm not just saying that as a Pistons fan, though this has clearly affected my team. I still nursing a slow burn over what happened in the Phoenix-San Antonio series, and if the Pistons weren't involved at this point, I'd have given up on the NBA playoffs already. That thought was pounding inside my head as I watched McDyess walk the walk of disbelief back to the Pistons' locker room.

But all that is essentially irrelevant against the larger scope of this series. I said I didn't want to complain, but I realize I've spent 700+ words doing just that. I'd actually forgotten that the Pistons also fell behind 3-2 in last year's series with the Cavaliers. But I think I echo the thoughts of every Detroit sports fan when I say this feels different.

This isn't just the Pistons not taking an opponent seriously anymore, seemingly waiting to turn on a switch. This feels like a shift in the Eastern Conference power structure. Here in Detroit, we've seen it before with our own team, and know exactly what it looks like. Perhaps the only difference is that LeBron is changing the balance approximately one year before most of us expected him to. Last night, he showed everyone exactly why he gets all the attention some of us may have felt he didn't yet deserve.

No, this series isn't over yet. But it sure seems that way. I feel much the same way as I did after the St. Louis Cardinals won Game 4 of last year's World Series against the Tigers. The series wasn't officially decided after that, but it may as well have been. The Tigers were wobbling at that point, just trying to stay upright while the Cards were measuring them up for the finishing blow. Today, the Pistons have that same look to them.

▪▪ Detroit Bad Boys easily wins the contest for best post-Game 5 headline, thereby highlighting a sensation I just can't shake this morning as I try to digest my breakfast.

▪▪ True Hoop breaks down the memorable moments from the game.

▪▪ Big Al didn't think he'd ever see one man beat five. (Word, my friend.)

▪▪ Bill Livingston believes LeBron may have trumped Jordan.

▪▪ Scott Warheit points out that this Pistons team has historically responded well to being down 3-2 in a series.

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