CHICAGO — Scared yet?
You ought to be. The Bulls now have done half of what they need to do to win this Eastern Conference final, and the Pistons haven’t done anything, except turn a bunch of stiffs into cult heroes here in Chicago. Anytime the press is interviewing Will Perdue after a playoff game, something is seriously wrong.
Another loss? Another poor performance? Naturally, the Pistons are not scared. But then, the Pistons are unique. The Pistons could be on the Titanic, after it hit the iceberg, and their reaction would be: “Someone call the restaurant. We’re gonna be a little late.”
We mortals are not so lucky. To our eyes, the sight of Mark Aguirre slapping helplessly as the Bulls steal the ball for another lay-up, or the sight of Joe Dumars tossing a pass into the hands of Chicago’s Scottie Pippen, or the sight of Tree Rollins starting the second half because James Edwards and Bill Laimbeer have been as effective as a used postage stamp — or the fact that Detroit is now down 2-0 in a playoff series, which hasn’t happened since Boston four years ago — I don’t know, to us, these things suggest . . . concern? Worry? Chewed fingernails?
“We’re down, but we have the utmost confidence,” Laimbeer said after the Pistons dropped Game 2 Tuesday night, 105-97. And he played terribly!
So we are confused by this. Of course, we are not basketball players. We have never been through the NBA Finals. “You do not know our championship attitude,'(at) the Pistons will say.
Fine. Except this isn’t only about the champions anymore. This is about the challengers, too. After all, champions never admit fear. But they do get dethroned. And it is usually at the hands of a hungry team whose members are playing over their heads, a team with a guy like Pippen taking revenge on the critics who laughed at him, a team with a geek like Perdue scoring more points in one night than Laimbeer and Edwards combined. A team like . . . . . . the Bulls? Pistons again bench-pressed
“How do you feel about having to win four out of five games to reach the Finals now?” someone asked coach Chuck Daly.
“I don’t even think about four of five,” he moaned. “I just want to win one.”
Yes. That would be nice. I still believe the Pistons are the more talented team. And they could win the next two, at the Palace, and easily tie this series. But here’s the problem: With each defeat, they are giving the Bulls something they should have locked inside a treasure chest. They are giving them confidence — and that has always been Detroit’s edge. Deep down, the Pistons feel superior, they cannot lose four times in seven games. But deep down, the Celtics felt that way in 1988 — until Detroit smacked their Big Green Ego. Champions, as I said, never get scared.
But they do get dethroned.
“We can smell it,” said Pippen Tuesday night. I’m not sure if he was referring to the NBA Finals, or the way the Pistons played. Stinky? I don’t know. Does getting five points total from Laimbeer, Edwards and John Salley qualify as stinky? The Pistons’ bench once again scored more points than its starters. And Detroit drew whistles the way raw meat draws flies. For those who missed it, let me sum up Game 2:
1) Pistons miss, Bulls rebound.
2) Pistons drive — no foul.
3) Bulls drive — whistle! whistle!
4) Will Perdue comes in.
5) Bulls take 17-point lead.
Kind of depressing, huh? It might not be so bad if they were losing to the Bulls. But they are also losing to the sub- Bulls, previously known as the TerriBulls, or the LaughaBulls. The bench? Come on. Not the Chicago bench! Here comes Perdue, Cliff Levingston, B.J. Armstrong and Craig Hodges to start the second quarter with Chicago up by five — and by the time they sit down, Chicago is up by 16.
You’ll notice I did not mention Michael Jordan. He was sitting the whole time, no doubt thinking of how to market himself on Mars if he wins this series. “We may be surprising Detroit,” His Highness said after scoring 35 points, 15 in the fourth quarter. The thing is, it shouldn’t be a surprise. The Pistons need only look inside themselves to see where the Bulls are coming from. And why they should worry. Who’s not worried now?
But OK. We don’t want to completely depress you. So let’s come up with some comforting reasons as to why Detroit has lost these first two games:
1) Still recovering from the Celtics series. Last year, Detroit played the first two games of the Finals against Portland before realizing it wasn’t Chicago out there. It takes a while to adjust. By Saturday, the Pistons will be completely focused.
2) Must feel backs against the wall. Why come home with series tied 1-1? There’s no drama in that.
3) Laimbeer, who just celebrated his 34th birthday, is going through a mid-life crisis.
4) The moon is in the Seventh House.
Take your pick. Then cross your fingers. Yes, the Pistons could simply follow the home-court advantage thing until Game 5, or Game 7, win, and advance to the Finals. Wouldn’t surprise me. They are that confident.
But has it occurred to anyone else that while the Pistons are spending so much time not worrying, so, perhaps, are the Bulls?