Cavs/Pistons Better Than You Think

So the great debate rages on: where does LeBron's game rank all-time? Is it better than M.J.'s flu game? Magic playing center? Bird/'Nique?

It is an argument that could, and most likely will, go on for ages. Everyone has an opinion on where each game ranks, but the argument itself is pointless. Each game was one of a kind; that means none before it, none to come. They can't be compared to one another because nothing like it has ever or will ever happen again. Someone could score 48 next week and it won't matter, it won't be the same.

I kept watching the game expecting him to run out of gas, expecting the Pistons to make adjustments, expecting to see the Pistons throw a counter punch, expecting the other foot to drop. But it never happened. He said after the game that, "he was pleased to be able to will his team to victory."

That is exactly what he did. It was 16 straight minutes of, "give me the ball and get the $%&! out of my way." He made impossible jumpers, improbable lay-ups, and uncontested dunks. He beat Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Tayshaun Prince, Lindsay Hunter, Jason Maxiell, and any other Piston they threw at him. It didn't matter, he willed his team to victory, just like he said he would.

The question now is does he have anything left in the tank? He won Game 5 by himself, but is there going to be a hangover effect in Game 6? If there is and they lose at home, can a young team regain their composure and win on the road in Game 7? It's not like this hasn't happened before. Last year, the Pistons took Games 1 and 2 against Cleveland, lost the next three, and won Games 6 and 7. So for all its greatness, Game 5 didn't clinch the series.

Some other interesting subplots from the Eastern Conference Finals:

The competitiveness of the series.

I'm not sure what everyone is watching, but the Eastern Conference Finals have been great. I've read countless stories over the past week or so about how bad the games have been. One person wrote that every playoff team in the West could beat the best team in the East. That person also picked a Dallas/Phoenix Western Conference Finals, so I guess I should take that with a grain of salt.

What more can you ask for from a series? Every game has been within five points entering the fourth quarter, and every game has come down to the final play. Maybe there has been some lapses in the game where the pace has been brutally slow, and the coaching and officiating have been questionable at best, but when was the last time a series this deep went to the final play five straight times? The Lakers/Kings conference finals that went seven in which Big Shot Bob hit three game-winners comes to mind. Other than that, you've got to go back a long way.

The Pistons' mini-dynasty is all but over if the lose this series.

They've been to the last five Eastern Conference Finals, and each time at some point, they find themselves with their back against the wall. Yet they always came through.

I just don't see it this year. This team doesn't have that certain "it" factor that it used to have. They used to have this ability to play a higher level than their opponents, regardless of who they were playing. Now they can still play at a high level, but they allow their opponents to play there, as well. That never used to happen.

Chauncey Billups' quest to cost himself millions of dollars.

Earlier in the year, Joe Dumars said that the Pistons would max out Chauncey if that's what it took to keep him here. Then he got hurt, missed a bunch of games, and the team was terrible. He had all but locked up the max deal Dumars foolishly said he'd pay. Then this series came along and "Mr. Big Shot" was just brutal. He turned the ball over like five times in the first quarter of game one, and hasn't improved since.

Just when you think he had just had a bad stretch of games and came out on fire in Game 4, scoring 15 in the first half, he completely choked in the second half, capped off by taking maybe the worst shot he's ever taken (the off-balanced three in transition).

Then he hits the huge three-pointer to give them the lead in regulation of Game 5, then the two free throws to force a second OT. He followed that up with two costly turnovers in the second OT.

If the Kobe situation has taught us anything, having a player on your team with a max contract cripples that team from making any necessary roster adjustments to remain competitive. The Pistons are built on a team concept and cannot give one player max money just to keep their core in tact. The window is already closing on this team, and a max deal all but slams it shut.

Antonio McDyess' ejection.

That was just absurd. When I was watching it I joked "watch, he'll probably get tossed for that". Sure enough, the refs got together and decided that hard fouls have no business being a part of a playoff series. Between rewarding the constant flopping and babying anyone who takes a hard foul, the officiating has reached unheard of levels of ridiculousness.

What a time to be a slasher in the NBA. The worst-case scenario now is a bail-out call on a wild shot attempt. The other alternatives are an uncontested dunk because everyone is afraid to touch you, or a flagrant foul where you get two shots and the ball because someone actually does hit you hard enough to make you think twice about attacking the rim. Dwyane Wade has become a superstar for that very reason, and it is pathetic.

LeBron may have sucked the life out of the Pistons in Game 5 and all but ended it, or he may have spent all his energy too early in the series. Who knows? What I do know is that there is at least one game left, maybe two, and if this pattern continues, they should both be worth programming the TiVo for.

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