After losing Game 5 in double overtime 109-107, the Pistons are losers of three straight and five of their last eight. After accumulating 53 wins in the regular season and 10 so far in the postseason, they now sit on the brink of elimination. As fans, we spend so much time celebrating this team's alleged greatness during the first six months of the season that we tend to forget how often they take us down this same path.
When I was a kid, I remember a trip to the zoo where I went to go see the apes. Most of the apes were fat and lazy and spent their time sunning themselves in the back of their cage far away from the gawking idiots with their flashing cameras and fanny packs and stupid little grins on their faces. But there was one ape sitting right up close in the corner hunched over with his head pressed up to the glass.
I walked up to the glass and stood less than 12 inches away from him, and I was mesmerized as he slowly and methodically vomited on the ground in front of him. When he was done, he proceeded to eat the vomit, only to heave it back up a few minutes later. He did this over and over and over again. Why I stood there and watched him for 20 minutes I'll never know for sure, but I imagine it was part of God's plan for me an analogy for how I feel right now.
Pistons fans, this team has been making us vomit for the entirety of their five-year run in the Eastern Conference Finals. Hell, it was barely a year ago that we were in the exact same situation as now: down 3-2 to the Cavs after winning the first two games. Back then, I penned this inspirational post, which I must admit is still one of my favorite posts I've ever put together in the history of this site. But while I want to triumphantly raise my first and proclaim, "We did it last year! We'll do it again! If it ain't rough, it ain't right!" ... I'm kind of getting sick of eating what I just threw up. (It's an imperfect analogy, I admit -- I'm not sure if we're eating when they lose or when they dodge the bullet and close out the series -- the point is that it's a cruel cycle that makes me feel like hell and never seems to end.)
And besides, this is not last year. This is not last year! Last year, Detroit blew out the Cavs in the first two games, dominating them in a way reminiscent of how this year's crew initially handled the Bulls last round. Detroit escaped Cleveland last year, but something happened to them ... much like something happened to this year's team after Chicago came back to win two and a half games. If you want to compare this year's run to last year, then realize that we are no longer playing the Cavs, we are playing the Heat -- and the Heat beat us in six games!
Can Detroit flip the script? I don't have a clue anymore. When the Pistons lost Game 4, we said, "Daniel Gibson won't score another 21 points in Game 5," and "Drew Gooden won't keep hitting so many clutch shots." We said things like, "Eff this, let's not lose because the supporting cast beat us. Let's quit double-teaming LeBron and leaving everyone else open, let's see what some ol' fashion man-to-man defense can do."
You know what it does? It lets a guy score 48 points, including every single point for the Cavs in two overtimes! Midway through the final quarter, LeBron took over the game, scoring 29 of his team's final 30 points. On his winning bucket in double-OT, he beat Chauncey off the dribble and slid past every single player that dared pretend they'd slow him down. I firmly believe if the Pistons had their entire roster in the paint, Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer on the blocks and Chieck Samb standing under the basket with both of his hands poking up through the bottom of the rim that LeBron James still would have scored that bucket!
Double-teaming him doesn't work, man-to-man doesn't work. There is no fair way to stop this man. After watching the play, my immediate reaction (after picking my jaw up off the floor holding back some tears) was that I wish someone had put him on the floor and made him earn it from the line. Not just a hard foul which might have resulted in a three-point play; no, I wanted somebody to hurt the guy. Yes, physically hurt him, go beyond the rules of the game and give him a bruise in two different places: on his face from where someone would shove the ball into his nose and on his ass from when he would fall out of orbit and back to earth. Needless to say, my head was in a bad place.
Upon further reflection, I admit that wouldn't have been a smart play -- and I came to that conclusion before even considering the notion of sportsmanship. Had someone done what I initially wanted him to do, it would have undoubtedly resulted in a Flagrant-2 ejection and suspension for Game 6. And considering there's actually a chance that Antonio McDyess might be suspended for doing what every other person on the face of the earth wants to do to Anderson Varejao, I decided it wouldn't be in Detroit's best interest.
But I digress. There are some positives from this game, namely, LeBron didn't score 60 and make the Pistons lose by 14. I mean, seriously. Cleveland had three guys foul out, recorded just 13 assists in 58 minutes of play and still came out ahead. Given the minutes everyone played, I'm not all that impressed by any of the numbers in Detroit's box score. It was nice to see a balanced attack for much of the game, but I can't get excited about Chauncey Billups scoring 21 points when it took him 53 minutes to do so. Chris Webber was a bit of a revelation, going 20 and 7 in 30 minutes, but it's an awfully sad moral victory when you're just happy about the fact your starting center proved he still has a pulse. If you want a good play-by-play, just read my live blog of the game over at the FanHouse -- I've already written about every excruciating detail (including the occasional moments of joy when it looked like Chauncey had his mojo back) and I refuse to do it again.
Can the Pistons bounce back? Of course they can, I just don't know if they will. At this point, I'm going say it's a 50-50 shot that the Cavs win in six or the Pistons win in 7. If Detroit can go down to Cleveland and prove they can play their hearts out, I don't see them losing another heartbreaker at the Palace in Game 7. But I honestly don't know if this team has that extra gear anymore. Everyone likes to pin their failings on a lack of focus, but if you watched, you can see they were trying. And consider this: four of Detroit's starters played at least 46 minutes, whereas only one of Cleveland's players played more than 42 minutes. Oh how I wish there were three days between games now instead of earlier in the series.
Besides, it's not just a matter of Detroit suddenly regaining their focus and playing their hearts out, it's a combination of game-planning, making adjustments on the fly (for instance, when a guy scores 20 straight, do something not to let him score 25 straight ...), execution and poise. Right now, the Pistons are 0-4 in that regard for the series, and they're just damn lucky they eeked out a couple of wins in the first two games to give them the margin of error they're now decided to test the limits of.
So yeah, go ahead and partake in the whole "If it ain't rough" rah rah rah yet again if you like, but I'm taking a step back. I believe in this team, but I also know this team. And for the first time since George Irvine was coach, I'm actually scared that getting out of this series is now longer solely about the Pistons "doing what they need to do."
No, for the Pistons to get out of this series, they need Cleveland to choke. They need LeBron to realize he's only 22 years old and that there will be plenty of other opportunities to reach the NBA Finals at some other point in the future. Or they need a big chunk of whatever was falling from the roof in Cleveland's arena in Game 4 to land on LeBron's foot. Or they need hoardes of Darfur-ian children who are missing multiple limbs due to machete wounds to show up and sit courtside to get into LeBron's head.
They need ... McDyess to be suspended, forcing Flip Saunders to put Amir Johnson on the active roster, setting the stage for Amir to have his "Tayshaun Prince circa 2003" moment where he breaks out and averages 20 and 10 over the next six, yes six (!), playoff games.
It could happen, right? Right?