What are we to make of that furious rally by the Miami Heat at the end of their Game 2 loss to the Detroit Pistons Thursday night? Thoroughly beaten from the opening tip and down by 10 with a minute to go, the Heat came roaring back to make the Pistons work for the win.
James Posey and Dwyane Wade hit three-pointers, the Pistons found themselves suddenly unable to inbound the ball, and Detroit didn't get the game salted away until Chauncey Billups hit a pair of free throws with eight seconds left for a four-point lead and then Lindsey Hunter denied Wade the chance at a miracle with a pickpocket steal.
It was just garbage-time stuff, a momentary loss of focus by a team that maybe thought it had the game won a few seconds before it did, a frantic comeback attempt by a beaten club that almost paid off, as they occasionally do, because a couple of threes fell in.
Or it was a signal, like the one the Cleveland Cavaliers sent in Game 2 of their second-round series against the Pistons, when they came from 18 down at the start of the fourth quarter to close within five in the last two minutes before succumbing.
The Cavs, down 2-0 at that point, won the next three games.
This comeback was different from that one -- hey, you can't get this kind of analysis just anywhere. The Cavs' comeback was more of a sustained effort, rather than just a crazy minute. Actually, two minutes. Having scored 12 points in the first quarter, Miami scored 17 in the last 1:46 of the fourth.
On the other hand, the Heat are a better team than the Cavs, and they already had a victory in their pockets.
Here's what I think we make of it: The Heat are good enough to stay with the Pistons and make it a long series, but they've got some serious issues.
The good news for Miami is that as flukey as that Game 1 win looked, with the Pistons shooting like Dick Cheney and Heat role players like Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning playing out of their minds, Game 2 may have been just as anomalous.
Just as Miami isn't going to ride Walker, Payton and Mourning to victory every night, those guys aren't going to disappear every night either, as they did Thursday. Nor does Udonis Haslem, lousy in Game 1 and lousy again in Game 2, figure to stay lousy.
Payton, Mourning and Jason Williams combined to shoot 14-for-18 in Game 1. They were a combined 5-for-16 Thursday. Walker hoisted up a 3-for-12, including 1-of-7 from beyond the arc. Payton scored seven points on 1-of-6 shooting in 31 minutes.
Mourning had six rebounds and a block in only 10 minutes Thursday, but didn't play with the same energy he'd shown on a week's rest Tuesday.
That might be the rub, right there. Energy. The Heat looked a lot more sluggish Thursday than they did Tuesday, when they were fairly bursting after a week off.
Some of that is an illusion. The Pistons played terrific defense for most of Game 2, and playing against a great defense, in any sport, can make you look like a slug. Listen to sports talk radio the day after your local baseball team gets shut out by an ace pitcher or the football team is held to a field goal by some monster defense.
"They just looked like they didn't care out there," the callers will say. "They need to pick up the effort level."
But it's not all illusion. There aren't any more weeks off coming up for the Heat. That sort of thing really helps at the tail end of a long season, especially for a team whose key player is 34 years old and carrying around about 400 pounds, not counting the 275 pounds or so of defender that hangs on him for 31 minutes a night.
Shaq looked pretty strong Thursday, but give him time. The Big Diesel's got at least six and possibly eight more days of play a day, rest a day coming. He'll be leaking oil, or whatever it is big diesels leak, by the middle of next week.
Payton and Co. will find their level somewhere between Tuesday's brilliance and Thursday's unbrilliance. Dwyane Wade is a great flaming pile of fantastitude, capable of making a difference in the series if the Pistons don't throw enough different effective defenses at him to knock him off his stride now and then, as they did Thursday.
This series is already interesting, already starting to heat up, but I don't think we've really seen its character yet. By the time you get back to work after the holiday, I think we'll be talking about whether Detroit's been able to keep up the defensive intensity, how Shaq's holding up and the extent to which Wade has been able to run wild.
And I don't think the returns will be overwhelmingly positive for Miami.
At least you'll be talking about those things. I'll be reviving my campaign to institute the four-day workweek, an idea that always finds a more receptive audience after a Monday holiday.
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Interleague attendance shocker! [PERMALINK]
This kind of thing drives me crazy.
The Associated Press and others dutifully reported earlier this week that the first weekend of interleague play "drew a 26.4 percent attendance increase."
The 42 interleague games over last weekend drew an average of 36,483 fans, up 26.4 percent over the season average of 29,148.
Well, duh. The schedule was rigged to produce just such a news story. Every team with a logical rival in the other league played that team. The Yankees played the Mets. The Angels played the Dodgers, the Giants played the A's. The Cardinals played the Royals. And so on and so on.
You can't compare those 42 games to the general run of everyday games, which includes all those Devil Rays-Orioles, Nationals-Pirates or Royals-anyone games. Of course attendance is going to spike.
This weekend, when the Mets and White Sox are playing in front of modest crowds in Miami and Toronto rather than in front of packed crosstown houses, will there be news stories about how MLB attendance is down from the weekend before by -- oh, I'll take a guess -- about 26.4 percent?
When interleague play resumes in June with the Twins in Pittsburgh, the Indians in Milwaukee and the Devil Rays in Philadelphia, will we get to read all about how interleague attendance has fallen off a cliff when compared to last weekend?
Can't wait to find out.
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