By Bill Simmons
Fascinating Game 7 last night. Miami had Detroit on the ropes with five or six different possessions in the final quarter, but every time that happened, the Heat always ended up getting a bad shot (how 'bout some of those Keyon Dooling possessions???) and allowed the Pistons to hang around. Even when Shaq was looking unstoppable down the stretch, I thought they were pulling it out.
And then this sequence happened:
2:02 remaining, Miami up 2 Shaq kicks it back out from a double-team; Damon Jones (truly atrocious for the entire game) isn't patient enough, penetrates, leaves his feet (Bob Cousy's ultimate no-no) and throws the ball away. Detroit roars down the court and executes a flawless fast break for a Hamilton layup. Tie score. Seriously, how many teams in the league would have gotten two points off that Jones play? Two? Three?
1:45, tie game Shaq gets fouled, makes one of two FTs.
1:25, Miami up 1 Rasheed posts up, draws a foul, makes both FTs.
1:15, Miami down 1 Wade takes a terrible jumper with 15 seconds on the shot clock.
0:56, Miami down 1 Prince misses driving layup; Rasheed tips it in for two.
0:47, Miami down 3 Wade tied up on out-of-control, Pierce-like spin drive. Pistons win the jump ball. Of course they do.
0:20, Miami down 3 Detroit runs shot clock down to last few seconds; Prince gets stripped, Miami gets a pseudo fast break in which Jones gets fouled (horrible call, by the way). Jones misses 1 of 2.
0:17, Miami down 2 Billups fouled, makes both.
0:12, Miami down 4 Alley-oop for Shaq.
0:11, Miami down 2 Billups fouled, makes both. Game over.
Bottom line: If you allow these Pistons to hang around, you can't screw up against them in crunch time. The way Detroit takes care of business in tight games is positively Belichick-esque. That's why they won.
So the question remains: Would Miami have won this game with a healthy Dwyane Wade? I say yes, and here's why: With the exception of one productive stretch in the third quarter, he couldn't have played worse he took bad shots, tried to do too much, didn't give them any rebounding or fast-break points. Clearly, he was three steps beyond hampered by that rib injury (note: I thought the Heat were playing possum by keeping him out of Game 6). If you were grading Game 7 against every other performance from the season, you would probably give him a D or a D-plus, and still, Miami nearly won the game. So if Wade was a B-plus instead of a D-plus in Game 7, what would have happened? You have to think Miami wins, right?
But here's the thing: Wade took an inordinate amount of punishment all season because he hasn't learned how to pick his spots yet. Just two weeks ago, I read a Sports Illustrated feature about him that brought up his reckless drives and the whacks he's taken from bigger guys, and Wade said something to the effect of, "I'm a young guy; I've been getting knocked down since I was 4 years old, so I know how to fall so I don't get injured."
Well, that's crazy. You can't play a 100-game season, take eight or nine football-type hits every game and expect your body to hold up. When Wade's body finally gave out, it happened during a blowout in Game 5 on a simple crossover move he probably made 5,000 times this season crossover, two steps to the left, elevate, release certainly not the type of play that potentially should end someone's season. It was like his body finally gave out, almost like a car engine that just won't start one morning.
And that's why I don't think people should play the "Pistons were lucky to win the series" card. The bottom line was Wade carried a superhuman load for Miami all season almost like a 450-carry season for an NFL running back and only because his supporting cast wasn't good enough to assume some of that burden. When he finally broke down and needed some help, the Heat didn't have enough talent to help him. That's why they lost. Over a 100-game season, Detroit was a slightly better all-around team.
Two other notes while we're here:
1. The Pistons possibly would have beaten the '87 Celtics if Dantley and the Microwave didn't crack heads in Game 7, and they would have won the '88 title if Isiah didn't sprain his ankle in Game 6. So if anyone was due for a break of "the best opposing player suffering a debilitating injury right as his team was taking control of the series" caliber, it was the Detroit Pistons. Between Wade's injury and Fisher making the miracle shot last spring allowing them to avoid the Spurs and play the Lakers instead (a much better matchup for them) I think we're finally even.
2. Whenever people start the "Who was the best NBA champ ever?" argument, they never take into account what happened the year after the title. Shouldn't the way you defended the title be factored into the overall greatness of that particular team? For instance, the '83 Sixers are considered to be one of the greatest teams ever, but they couldn't even get out of the first round against the Nets the next year. Shouldn't that matter? Anyway, you have to hand it to the 2005 Pistons. Maybe they aren't as good as last year's team case in point: Poor Rip Hamilton had to play 48 minutes last night, which had to be the stat of the playoffs so far but they rose to the occasion when it mattered. I didn't think they had it in them.
(Note to self: Probably not a good idea to underestimate the defending champs in a big game again.)