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Saturday, June 03, 2006

...then why don't you have a game tonight?

6/2/2006 - Pistons 78-95 Heat - Gone Fishin'

I live by a few simple guidelines. One: never be nice to people who don't deserve it. Two: buy anything on sale at the grocery store. Three: basketball brings woe. It is a vicious thing to care about. There's nothing so maddening as watching two teams take shots of seemingly identical quality and having all of the wrong ones go in, especially when you are an engineery type who can barely restrain yourself from screaming to the world at large that you understand there is no law of averages but there could be a first-born son involved if someone could maybe impose one for, say, the next hour or so in a specific place with a lot of Cubans and tools in white t-shirts.

But that's not why the Pistons will find themselves photoshopped onto some sportfishing boat or another next to a surprised Charles Barkley tonight, damned by their own hands and the tortously errant shots said hands launched. While game six seemed like a sort of cosmic middle finger, the Pistons were straight-up beat down in three other games of the series. That placed them squarely on a precipice where, say, the unpleasantly linked concepts of "Jason Williams" and "10 of 12" result in what will be a long, unpleasant offseason plunge.

No doubt the sort of person -- let's call him "Lew from Warren" -- who attributes all victories to some sort of triumph of the human spirit is feverishly calling into sports talk radio shows to decry the lack of same displayed by the Pistons over the past couple weeks, but as the sort of person who thinks Lew from Warren should be shot into space, I (unsuprisingly) disagree. The Pistons were defeated not because they were lax or cocky, but because they were badly outcoached and, as a result, outplayed. The human spirit can only take one so far when the offense is reduced to running the same ineffective screens time and again that have been scouted and largely defeated, when Ben Wallace's impact on the game comes mainly at the free throw line, when everyone not named Tayshaun Prince shoots like they need the bricks for a new garage.

In retrospect, the turning point in the East came when Pat Riley unceremoniously axed Stan van Gundy and brought the concentrated evil of his slicked-back hair back to NBA sidelines. Riley is an unpleasant, demanding man -- think of him in the mornings, greasing his hair with an evil glint in his eye, barking out orders to imaginary underlings, his eye subtly twitching as the consumed souls that power his earthly incarnation make futile bids for freedom -- who carved an imposing defensive team out of Wade, a decrepit 320 pound center, Jason Williams, Udonis Haslem, and Antoine Walker(!!!). Riley watched the tape, devised a plan, and obliterated the Piston offense. There was not much of a riposte from Saunders other than to look on grimly.

The Heat were a soft team when they struggled through the opening portion of the season, but Pat Riley is a hard man. The Pistons were a hard team under Carlisle and Brown, but Flip Saunders is a soft man. And thus goes a series.

More than a series was lost, however. At some point towards the end of the season, Ben Wallace went crazy. Maybe he can't stand Flip's offensive emphasis. Maybe he can't abide being treated like Michael Ruffin. Maybe he knows what I've feared all year: his skills are eroding, and quickly. I don't know what happened, but when Jason Maxiell made a crunch-time appearance sometime late in the season and it turned out it was because Wallace refused to go into the game things started to go awry. Wallace started bitching in the papers. He was outplayed by Sideshow Varejao against Cleveland. Even the devastating block against Shaq in game five only served to highlight how invisible he had been in games one through four.

Now he faces free agency, and one of two things will happen: he will get a cap-crippling offer from a very dumb team and take it, or he will not and he will resign. Option 1 will cause me to throw things at the television the first time I see Ben wearing anything other than a Detroit uniform. Option two will result in years of watching Ben decline. Trekkies have a term for this situation: Kobayashi Maru. It won't be the same without him, but it probably won't be the same with him either. And how am I supposed to deal with that?