No more words. Words do not put the ball in the basket.
No more vows. Vows are only good until they’re broken – and too much about this team is broken already.
The Pistons have explained ad nauseam how they win, how they never really lose, how they’re unaffected, how they rise above. Such sentences only look silly now, with a game tonight that could end their season.
Let’s say this right here. The Pistons of ‘Sheed, Rip, Chauncey and Tayshaun are in danger of becoming the Buffalo Bills with a ring. They have contended the last five seasons. They have reached the Eastern Conference finals every time.
But they have one title to show for it.
And their time is running out.
What happened Thursday night at the Palace was of such magnitude, it still requires digestion, like a Russian novel you re-read to catch all the turns and twists. Yet for all of LeBron James’ magnificence, the Pistons had ample chances to salt that game away. But they could not stop one man. Even when his teammates had seemingly gone hours without shooting the ball, the Pistons could not – or would not – clamp down on LeBron enough to deny him access to the rim.
One man beat five men. And while that flies in the face of everything this Detroit franchise has stood for in recent years, it is what it is.
And it is not new. The last successful Pistons era – the Bad Boys days – came to an end when Michael Jordon elevated above the game. Now, just down the highway, a new unstoppable star is growing before our eyes.
And if the Pistons don’t trip him up this time, he’ll be even bigger next playoff season.
The kids are all right
“You don’t wanna take nothing away from them kids,” Rasheed Wallace said of Cleveland following the double-overtime loss in Game 5.
The fact that he called them “kids” is telling. Youth is always served in sports. The best you can do is hold it off temporarily. In time, the wave breaks. If the Pistons want a history lesson in this subject, they can ask Joe Dumars about the 1987-88 season. Until then, Dumars and his teammates were continually halted by the older, more experienced Boston Celtics.
But that spring, the Pistons finally took a 3-2 lead in the Eastern finals and had Game 6 at home (just as Cleveland has tonight). The Boston players arrived certain that their experience would prevail.
They were cocky coming in.
They were defeated going out.
Now the Pistons are on a similar stage. But asked if this spring against Cleveland was different than last, Chauncey Billups said: “It’s the same thing. It’s 3-2. We dug ourselves a hole. But we’ve been in these waters before. We can handle ourselves in these situations.”
Mm-hmm. That’s what the Celtics said.
The task at hand
Now, it would be unfair – and unwise – to assume the Pistons are done. Antonio McDyess will be back. Besides, assumptions have gotten people nowhere this series. Let it play out. This team deserves that much, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s not as if the Pistons aren’t trying.
But if they fall, historians will debate whether Detroit ever laid solid claim to a single game in this series. The first two victories, you could argue, came off ineffective decisions by James.
Then again, the last three Cavaliers victories came in the final seconds, too, and resulted from Detroit’s miscues.
The Pistons’ trademarks are not to turn the ball over at crucial times, not to miss the big shots, not to break down defensively. They have done all three.
“I’m not gonna go into all that, coaching and subs,” Billups said. “That’s not really my deal, know what I’m saying?”
We know what he’s saying. And what he’s not. And if the Pistons lose tonight, fingers will point. Changes will be made. This team is hanging on the precipice of its legacy – and that legacy right now is a team that comes close but falls short.
“It’s my job to go out there and try and win ballgames,” Billups said.
Then do your job. What more can be said at this point?
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or email@example.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).