By Vincent Thomas
Let me hit one item before getting at undoubtedly one of the most dramatic Playoff games in recent memory and arguably the single greatest Playoff performance in the history of the National Basketball Association…
I’ve learned to check online before I start writing these things to make sure Lang or Sam haven’t already covered a lot of ground. They’re both really good about getting immediate reactions up on the site, long before my copy trickles in to Sam the next afternoon. As I’m writing (around 2 a.m.), Lang already has a quick post up. But, he made a point I wanna expound on very briefly…Reggie Miller. He’s horrible in the studio with Kenny, Chuck and EJ and he’s even worse as the analyst with Dick Stockton (where he’s done things like refer to Jason Richardson as a power forward). Reg is the classic cornball, goofball know-it-all that uses a consistent string of hair-brained, contrarian views and goes hard at actual cool dudes that know a little bit. Except, when the cool dudes dismiss him and start clownin’, the nerd continues on, even when it’s now clear (even to the nerd) that he’s dead wrong. And he does all this while gesturing awkwardly and giggling like Jimmy Neutron. Magic is the perfect 4th wheel, despite his articulation problems. He offers insight and expresses the level-headed viewpoint. Reg spends too much time trying to out-outrageous Charles Barkley. I’m through with homeboy. (Although I’m proppin’ him for putting Bird on Front Street with his Jim Friggin O’Brien hire, when he didn’t even give Mark Jackson a call. That’s egregious.)
NOW, onto the game. Before I get to LeBron, a few other observations and reactions from the Cavs’ 109-107 double OT G-move on the Pistons.
— Watching Big Z and Webb go at one another is actually pretty entertaining. Webb had 11 of his 20 in the first half, where Z had 9 of his 16. Throughout the game they took turns schooling each other. The thing is, both players’ mobility is depleted to remarkable levels, to the point that it’s quite plausible that, say, George Karl could beat them in a foot race and Phil Jackson could win the opening tip. These aren’t exaggerations, they’re feasible scenarios. Nothing is more telling than when they fall. You know a big man is done when my Pops is yelling “timberrrrrr” the second Webb or Z start tilting downward in slow-motion. This all means that they couldn’t defend a statue, much less a highly skilled post player with ample moves and craftiness for days – which is what both Webb and Z happen to be. So when either gets the ball down low, they make the other look pretty foolish. Seriously. Check for that in Game 6.
— Speaking of Webb, Craig Sager’s suit jacket interviewed him at the end of the half. It asked Webb about McDyess’ ejection. Webb responded that (I’m paraphrasing): “Hopefully these pansies will stop flopping, man-up and play real ball and then these gullible officials won’t call GOOD HARD FOULS as flagrants.” Flagrant II’s nonetheless. I agree with Webb, somewhat. Check the replay. Sideshow Bob had the rock on his left hip. Dyess was on his right shoulder. Gangstas don’t do matador defense and easy buckets (hence Bron’s clear pathways late in the game), so Dyess chopped down across Sideshow’s body, going after the ball. It was an awkward attempt and angle, so Sideshow got some forearm to the chops, which caused his Scary Spice hairdo to shake violently as he hit the floor with a thud. So, cool, hit Dyess with a flagrant and keep it moving. But the officials choose (in an easy consensus) to eject Dyess. Salvatore explained to Dyess that he made contact with Sideshow’s head, hence the ejection. Whatevs. But, if Stu suspends Dyess for Game 6 then the NBA has officially reached a crucial point.
— I really like this Jason Maxiell dude. And he reinforces my assertion that Joe Dumars is still one of the three or four best GMs in the game. He took a lot of heat for Darko. But he’s still built a team that has consistently competed for the past five years. Outside of not having a Duncan, what’s the difference between him and Bob Bass/Popovich? Not resigning Ben Wallace was straight up and down prescient. Adding older kats like Webb and Dyess were calculated. Getting dudes like Delfino and Maxiell (now contributors) late in their respective first rounds is some serious talent assessment. The more I see Maxiell, the more I like him. He’s like a poor man’s Young Dyess in many ways. Shame on him, however, for that soft weak side help on Bron’s game-winner.
— Speaking of youngsters, I’m calling it here. Daniel Gibson is gonna make a Deron Williams “type” leap next season. He had a suspect Game 5, but it’s been clear that he’s a playmaker, super-athletic and can make a variety of shots. More than anything, I dig his creativity and I think he’s gonna give Detroit fits in Game 6. He fouled out in Game 5, though; and on some levels, it was a blessing in disguise as Eric Snow has gotten pretty adept at making an impact in short, late-game stints. His two steals were critical.
— Billups’ clutch performance will undoubtedly get swept under Bron’s epic rug. But, although his last shot rimmed out, his trey toward the end of regulation and the two free throws at the end of the first OT are two poignant examples of why he’s called Mr. Big Shot. Still, I gotta admit that I was kinda worried about Chaunc, for a while. There was a moment toward the end of the 2nd quarter when Billups faced-up Gibson and popped a 15-footer on the right wing. It rattled in. What was interesting was Chaunc’s body language as soon as he released the shot. When things are rolling (or regular) and a big-time player snaps that wrist, they come down loose, usually jogging back to the other end. In their minds, they know the shot is dropping. On this play, however, Chaunc came down with his arms as stiff as cement and almost hopped a little bit as the ball made its way through the hoop. It was a nervous hop, like “Get in there!” This was Chauncey Billups’ reaction to a routine 15-footer. Homeboy was struggling and, surprisingly, a little unsure. So it says a lot about the man that he was ice cold when it really mattered. By the end of the fourth, his recent woes were an afterthought. The way he snatched that loose ball and flicked in that game-tying trey in the 4th was gangsta. Those ice cold free throws in OT were super-gangsta. A bonafide legend would’ve been created if he hit that shot at the end of the second OT. Thankfully, it rattled out. Bron needed this more.
— I would love to get into how bad I think Mike Brown and Flip Saunders are, but that’s actually taxing. They both hurt my brain. But I will plead for someone to tell Mike Brown that he’s not a high school coach. I’ve covered plenty of preps during my newspaper days and high school coaches like to waste time shouting out the 10th man that got in the game for two minutes and barely made an impact. That’s cool; give the young scrub a chance to see his name in the paper and reinforce the No Special Treatment mantra. I dig that, even though it was annoying. Once we hit the L, we are all adults: the coaches, players and media. We don’t have the time, patience, nor desire to hear Brown take 5 minutes to extol the virtues of Scott Pollard’s 12 seconds on the court. It’s Bush League. Stop it.
— LeBron. You know the requisite stats and have seen the highlights multiple times by now. He dropped 48, 29 of the Cavs’ last 30, 28 straight. This all took place during the final half of the 4th and the OTs.
Yes, it was puzzling that Bron had a total of four, barely-contested dunks/lay-ups during crunch-time. Yes, the Piston’s defensive rotation was non-existent. Yes, it’s puzzling that Maxiell hesitated to help on Bron’s game-winner, pausing to ponder this question: “Should I proactively commit to closing this gap and denying this superstar that has scored his teams last 26 points, or should I stay home with Sideshow and make sure he doesn’t beat us on a 12-foot baseline jumper???? Yes, Game 5 was this season’s most conspicuous example how how/when/why the Pistons miss Ben Wallace. Yes, Dyess might have made a difference. No, there’s not a truly good reason of why Flip stayed with the zone as Bron repeatedly beat 6-3 Chauncey off the dribble and sashayed to a naked hoop as Sheed’s goatee looked on like a helpless damsel saying, “I wanna help, but I just can’t leave Donyell Marshall!!” The Pistons’ lack of defensive commitment and overall wherewithal was puzzling, specifically coming from THAT squad. Yet, for all they did wrong, Bron did mo’ betta.
The perimeter shots that he hit were, not Jordanesque, but Kobe-esque. More than MJ, Kobe has trademarked those shots where a player drives left or right and pulls up for off balance 25-footers over two defenders. Bron did that twice late in the game. Some of those were bad shots, but you gotta love that singular focus.
I love how Kenny said that Bron’s trials and missteps in Games 1 and 2 made Game 5 possible. His words: “Tonight doesn’t happen without Games 1 and 2.” I agree wholeheartedly. Bron played the backlash from both games cool, made it seem like the criticism wasn’t getting to him, made it seem like he wasn’t planning on doing anything different. It was scary for a while. He had me fooled. I thought dude didn’t get it. Then he just zones out and 1-on-5s the Detroit Pistons – yes, because he had to – but more because he wanted to. The seeming lack of regard he had for getting his squad involved was not only remarkable, but wholly warranted. And he delivered, multiple times, against the best squad in the East.
Can he do it again? I wonder. And that should concern Cleveland fans, because he might have to. Cleveland has been playing some of its best ball and LeBron is blackin’ out. Meanwhile, Detroit has been underachieving throughout the series, never putting together a complete game. It’s coming. I’m saying that the series will be back in The D, this Monday. And I think Detroit takes that one too, setting up an ’05 rematch with San Antonio.
But, let’s say I’m wrong, which could easily be the case. Wednesday, Dan Patrick asked Wilbon, Stephen A. and Jon Barry who they thought the Spurs would rather face. Wilbon and Barry said the Spurs would rather face the inexperienced Cavs and steer clear of the grizzled vets from Detroit. Very logical answers. But Stephen A. made the smartest point of the evening. He said that the scarier scenario has San Antonio trying to figure out how to stop LeBron, who is clearly on a violent rampage. This was BEFORE the Game 5 Classic. I have to agree. If Bron makes it to the Finals, he’s now clearly on a manic-mission and fit to beat anyone, even the Spurs, all by himself. It’s that serious. He’s literally frightening.
— Before we conclude, you know we have to go ahead and decide where this performance ranks. No arguably this or possibly that. Was Bron’s performance the greatest or not?
He’s up against some not-human performances. There’s the Zeke And His Bum Ankle game, the MJ Flu game, the MJ Drops 63 On The Celtics At The Garden game, the Reggie Hits The Knicks For 25 In The 4th game, the Magic Subs For Kareem And Annihilates The Sixers As A Rookie game…and a few more.
But let’s put Bron’s gem in context:
Dude is 22. Unlike Young Magic, Bron is the only star on his squad. Bron was battling early-series criticism that challenged his mettle, fiber, mentality, manhood, desire and overall essence – emotional/mental foes tend be more daunting than the physical ones. Bron was playing the best team in his conference, his squad’s arch-nemesis. Bron was playing IN Detroit. Bron scored his team’s final 28 points in the midst of an ultra-close game where Cleveland was either clawing back or trying to maintain a small advantage. Bron hit two, late go-ahead buckets. Bron hit the game winner.
LeBron James’ Game 5 blackout was The Greatest Playoff Performance In NBA History. Don’t argue this.