“We won’t have a very long practice today. Just long enough to throw up.”
–Chuck Daly, Friday morning Adrian Dantley had his feet up on the seat. Bill Laimbeer was asleep with his mouth open. Rick Mahorn sat with headphones over his ears.
It was Friday morning and the sun pierced the small glass windows of the airplane cabin. Somewhere, 30,000 feet below, were the first two games of this playoff series with the Celtics, gone forever. Just like that? Just like that. The Pistons fly into Boston, brimming with confidence, and bang, bang, they are on a plane coming home, down 0-2. Where did those games go? How fast had they been lost? Just like that?
“You know, when we sat down on the bench for Game 2,” Sidney Green said,
“I turned to Kurt (Nimphius) and I said, ‘Man, it feels like we were just here.’ Didn’t I say that, Kurt?”
He tapped him on the arm.
“Huh?” a groggy Nimphius said.
“I did,” Green said. “I said it feels like we were just here. And, bam, we lost again.”
Green sighed. Down the aisle sat Joe Dumars, looking at a magazine. A few seats away, John Salley. A few over, Vinnie Johnson. They were like kids who jump on a Greyhound bus to New York City, ready to be discovered, and someone steals their wallets. Just like that. Are there any faster losses than the first two playoff losses against the defending champions? In any sport?
One minute everything is possible, and the next minute, the possible is everything. The night this series started — which was what, a few hours ago?
— Detroit was favored by almost everybody. But Game 1 was lost in a throbbing Boston Garden (“We were too hyper out there,” coach Chuck Daly said)
and Game 2 was lost in a throbbing Boston Garden (“Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn got a total of five points,” Daly said. “How often does that happen?”) and this is the way these things go. You write off one game to nerves and one game to weird shooting, and before you know it, you are written off.
‘The games go boom’
“Doesn’t it seem like too long a season to have these playoff games go by so fast?” Dumars was asked on the plane.
“Yeah,” he said, “the games go boom and next thing you know everyone’s asking you to analyze them. And then you have to play another one.”
Yes. Another and another. The Boston one-two is replaced by the Detroit three-four. A game today at the Silverdome. A game tomorrow at the Silverdome. Two games within 26 hours? Can that be right? Two games within 26 hours? Someone has put their finger in the middle of the record and is spinning it faster and faster. Two games within 26 hours? That means by tomorrow night, this series — which began what, a few minutes ago? — could actually be all over.
“Can you do anything at practice with so little time?” Daly was asked.
“Can you make changes?”
“All we can do is try to forget the last two games,” he said. “Sometimes you do that best by shooting at a new basket. That’s about all. Maybe a small adjustment here or there. But we’re pretty much locked in. At this stage, you show up and play and hope for the best.” Quick nap, and show begins
It would be different if Games 1 and 2 of this series — which began, what, a few seconds ago? — were double-overtime affairs. Real wars. Best against best. But they have been oddities, mediocre shooting from excellent players, excellent shooting from mediocre players. Isiah Thomas too cold. Isiah Thomas too wild. Dantley here, Dantley gone. Jerry Sichting? Sam Vincent?
Wasn’t it a few seconds ago that all the talk was about Kevin McHale and Robert Parish’s injuries? And how Bill Walton and Danny Ainge would be so sorely missed? Where did this Pistons shooting problem come from? Where did these grumblings about Isiah’s showmanship come from? When is the next game? Five minutes? Two minutes?
“What are you going to do today after practice?” Dantley was asked Friday.
“Shoot 500 free throws? Develop a new spin move? Come up with a new miracle?”
“I’ll look at some tape and go home,” he said.
That is all there is time for. Go home. Come back. The regular season is an endless road of loose hours, long breakfasts, afternoon soap operas. And the playoffs are ice skates. Play, answer 1,000 questions, shower, sleep. Practice, answer 1,000 questions, shower, sleep. The margins between games are little more than a temporary exit cue. Skim your lines. A dab of makeup. You’re on. Or you’re off.
“Do you realize that within 26 hours of Saturday’s tap-up, the whole season could be over?” Daly was reminded as he left the plane.
“I know it,” he said. “Then again, we could win two games in little more than a day.”
He allowed a smile.
“And we’d be tied.”
Just like that? Just like that.