Well, that changes everything, right? The Pistons beat the Lakers 87-75 in Game 1 Sunday night, and all of a sudden this whole NBA Finals thing is a series. The Pistons aren't patsies after all. They've earned the Lakers' respect. Did we say Lakers in four? Ha ha! We meant to say there's just no telling!
I'm saving you some reading time here by summarizing the commentariat.
If anything unexpected happened Sunday night at the Staples Center, it was the Pistons scoring 85 points with Rip Hamilton having an off shooting night, going 5-for-16 and scoring 12 points. Everything else looked pretty familiar.
The Lakers came out flat, played flat for a while, played flat some more, came out of halftime flat, and finished flat. Then they shrugged their shoulders as if to say, "Oh yeah, we forgot. We can't just throw our jocks on the floor and expect to win." Then Derek Fisher and Rick Fox calmly issued statements to the effect of: Not to worry, we'll just have to play better in Game 2.
If you don't have déjà vu right now you should either visit your doctor or check to see if you've ever dated Kate Winslet.
More déjà for vous: The Pistons hustled and banged and contested every shot. They committed all of their defensive resources to trying to stop Shaquille O'Neal and making Kobe Bryant work hard for everything he got, content to let everybody else beat them.
Everybody else would have beaten them except this was a throw-your-jock-out-there night. Everybody else came in averaging 44.9 points a game in the playoffs. If they had scored a measly 29 Sunday, the Lakers would have won. They scored 16 in a combined 148 minutes. They shot 6-for-30.
The Pistons defense is good, better than the Lakers have been facing so far in the playoffs. But it's not that good.
And does this ring a bell? O'Neal was able to score at will, able to do whatever he wanted to do -- postgame quote from Shaq: "I was doing what I wanted to do" -- and the Lakers gave him the ball with decreasing frequency as the game wore on.
In the first quarter he took five shots and was twice fouled on missed shots, which don't count as official attempts. So that's seven shots. In the second quarter, it was three shots and three fouls. In each of the last two quarters, four shots, no fouls. Shaq didn't shoot a free throw in the second half.
And these numbers don't really tell the story. O'Neal dominated the first quarter, and by the second half his teammates barely even noticed he was on the floor. Shaq whines unbecomingly often about not getting the ball, but the thing is, he's right.
We in the typing classes have this ingrained notion that whichever way the wind is blowing, it's going to keep blowing that way. This in spite of constant reminders to the contrary. So I'll remind you, and myself, to write off the Lakers at your peril. In their first three series, the Lakers went 5-4 in Games 1 through 3, and then 7-1 after that. They get better as they go along. They adjust, and they wake up. The Pistons went 6-3 in the first three games, then 6-3 after that.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles. My guess is the Lakers will show.
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Hold those cards and letters [PERMALINK]
I really do like to save you time because we're living in a go-go world, which is why I married a go-go dancer, and suddenly I've veered off topic.
But what I meant to say is that I want to stop you before you write me that e-mail about how this column is so defensive about my precious and beloved Lakers, who in my purple and gold-worshiping eyes can do no wrong and can't possibly lose etc. etc.
I have no rooting interest in this series. I don't care if the Lakers win. I think I've always been pretty straight with you when I'm rooting for someone -- to review, in the NBA I root for the Kings and Grizzlies, in that order, for complicated and yet totally uninteresting personal and geographic reasons -- so you can trust me when I tell you that I don't care if the Lakers or Pistons win, because either way it'll be a good story to write about.
You also should know by now that I'm perfectly comfortable with my predictions getting shot to hell. Comfortable is an understatement. If my predictions started coming through once in a while, I'd have to rethink my whole shtick. So just because I said the Lakers would win in five doesn't mean I'm rooting for them to win in five.
If I were a better person than I am I wouldn't mention that when I predicted the Lakers in five I had forgotten that in the Finals Games 3 through 5 are played in the same city, rather than the 2-2-1-1-1 arrangement of the rest of the playoffs. So I didn't realize I was predicting the Lakers would clinch in Detroit.
Given that and the Pistons' win in Game 1, here's my new prediction: Lakers in five.
Oh, and you don't have to write me about "déjà for vous" in that last item either. It's not that I don't treasure your letters. I just want you to have enough time to read Cary Tennis.
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Some friendly advice [PERMALINK]
If you ever wanted to feel like part of a national movement, a tidal wave of people all doing the same thing, this is your month if you live in the United States, because chances are you're ignoring the Stanley Cup Finals, as are nearly all of your compatriots.
Do yourself a favor: Watch Game 7 Monday night. There's nothing like a championship series Game 7 in any sport, and there's no Game 7 like an NHL Game 7.
I don't want to hear that you don't care about the Flames and Lightning. Watch the game. You won't be sorry. I don't like to tell people what they should do, but this is important, even if you won't miss the NHL next year when it's gone.
It says here, based on nothing: Flames in overtime.
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There's no apologizing in sports [PERMALINK]
Was that the goofiest moment in the history of sports when Edgar Prado, who had just ridden Birdstone to a stunning long-shot win in the Belmont Stakes Saturday, apologized for beating Smarty Jones?
"I'm very sorry for Mr. Servis and all the connections for Smarty Jones, but I had to do my job," Prado said, referring to Smarty Jones trainer John Servis after 36-1 shot Birdstone roared past the massively popular favorite down the stretch just when it looked like Smarty had sewed up the Triple Crown. "This is part of the business, and I'm very sorry it had to be me."
I wanted Smarty Jones to win the Triple Crown as much as anybody else, but nobody should feel compelled to apologize for winning. Smarty Jones becoming the first horse in 26 years to win the Triple Crown would have meant nothing if everyone else in the field hadn't been trying their damnedest to win the race too. Birdstone swallowing him up was one of the most dramatic moments of the year. It was awful-wonderful.
Prado was being gracious and honestly expressing his emotions, which is good, better than the tedious, angry, "nobody respected us!" posturing of most underdog (and some overdog) winners in sports these days. But there's just something wrong with apologizing for a win.
Sometimes life casts you in the role of the villain, the spoiler, and there's nothing to do but relish it. I like how jockeys refer to their mount as "my horse," so if I were Prado I'd have said, "My horse decided that if he couldn't win the Triple Crown, he wasn't going to let anybody else win it either."
Then I'd have laughed like a maniac.
Previous column: Iginla the hero, and scoring first
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