Dad requested an entry on the Pistons- actually, he only kind-of requested it, but I’ll take any excuse to talk sports.
Before we get to that, I wanted to commemorate that the Florida Marlins would win the NL East pennant and the Tampa Bay Rays would win the AL wild card if the baseball season ended today. The Rays, really, should only be a modest surprise- really, drafting over-and-over in the top five should get you results- but the Marlins? With the way they gutted that team? Kudos to all involved on both sides. Maybe they don’t last, but I think teams that draft and develop well should be rewarded over teams that throw money at stars (Don’t even get me started on the Jays, who need to curb that instinct). They’re easier to root for. Not enough for me to buy a “Hinske” Rays jersey (he’s starting to fall off anyway), but up there.
Anyway, Detroit, home of the Pistons. So they and the Celtics are in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals, which is the matchup everyone expected, even if the routes they took to get there should be a mite worrisome to their fans. Detroit went down 2-1 in their first round series to sixth-seeded Philadelphia in the first round before winning seven of their next eight to set up their sixth(?) consecutive date in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics needed all fourteen games to beat both of their opponents, not winning a single game on the road.
For Pistons fans, inconsistency is nothing new. Sure, they’ve been a great team for years, with Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Rasheed Wallace, but you always expected MORE. You thought that with the players they had, they should be winning titles year after year. And maybe that was right. But for whatever reason, they didn’t always play with an edge, with the intensity they needed, and the opening series against Philadelphia and the Game 1 loss to Boston proved that. So many times, it was as if their attitude was, “We’re Detroit, and you should lay down to us” against lesser teams, thinking they could turn it on when they needed to. It got to the point where it happened against good teams as well.
Last year’s series against Cleveland drove me to madness. Detroit was up 2-0, and lost the series in six. Lebron James took a Cleveland team with nobody and willed them past a sleepy, tired Detroit squad, putting on one of the most incredible individual performances in playoff history in Game 5, scoring the final 25 points and 29 of the last 30 enroute to a double-OT victory that essentially killed what was left of Detroit’s will.
Watching, frustrated at my team’s inability to stop James, I couldn’t help but respect his drive, and admire the incredible feat. I kept thinking to myself: “What if Detroit played with that kind of passion? Would anybody stop them?”
Boston’s showed some cracks too, after an incredible regular season. They’ve yet to win a playoff road game, and Kevin Garnett has shown himself to be small in clutch situations (luckily, Paul Pierce is not). They’ve needed all 14 games to get this far, and the fatigue of that has to come into play for a veteran team like them. Detroit is a hard matchup, but they’re prone to lapses in intensity. This might be decided by who makes the fewest mistakes rather than being the great matchup some thought it might be.
Even after the Game 1 loss, I’ve got Detroit in six, though. They played terrible in the first game, and were still in a position to win it in the fourth quarter in Boston. This does mean that the home/road split gets turned on it’s ear (I’ve got Detroit winning two games each in Boston and at home), which has to happen at some point, doesn’t it? Great teams win on the road, and you figure something’s got to give.
(Other predictions: Spurs in seven, and for some puck, Pens in six. Not betting against the champs until they’re out, and kind of hoping Sid the Kid’s Pens winning inspires more teams in the NHL to play an entertaining brand of hockey)