Mike Lantry, 1972
Send In The Repair Gnomes
5/29/2007 - Pistons 87-91 Cavaliers - ECF Tied 2-2
Chauncey Billups is broken, though it's not clear exactly how. I remain steadfast in my belief that "clutch" is a fiction borne of the human mind's imperative to shoehorn events into some sort of narrative causality, to look for reasons where there are not necessarily any. See the sun moving across the sky? How does it do that? Probably chariots. There must be sun chariots. Reading anything into Billups' (debatably) ill-advised late three or turnover spectacular other than "Billups is broken" is an exercise in sun chariot detection...but something ain't right with him.
What? I wish it was self-inflicted. I wish some vital portion of Billups' industrial-strength reliability gyro had fatigued at a critical point and released a bit of shrapnel that ricocheted its way through his normally aerodynamic interior, gouging divots and scraping paint and leaving behind basically the same thing except a little... off. And that internal repair gnomes hired by anthropomorphized time would sing their little internal repair gnomes song and bring out their spackle and their belt sanders and whistle -- no, that's dwarves -- sing "The Final Countdown" a capella style as they restored Billups to pristine working order.
This does not appear to be the case. Freed of the presence of Larry Hughes' stifling defense, Billups dominated the first half against a gimpy Hughes, undersized Daniel Gibson, and, well, Damon Jones. But in the second half -- and this is something that went completely unremarked on by the announcers in an uncharacteristic oversight by a normally crack TNT crew (with the notable exception of horrible Doug Collins; see below) -- the Cavs switched Lebron James on Billups and Billups disappeared. What's worse, he didn't even probe a matchup against a six-eight small forward. The one time he did he got the defense to collapse and got a teammate an open look. The rest of the game, though, he avoided making even the slightest move towards the basket. The aggression of the first half drained.
The thing that makes Cleveland a dangerous team now and in the future is that ability. As James was confusing Billups into thinking "there is a 6'8" guy on me, there must be a mismatch somewhere on the floor," similarly 6'8" Sasha Pavlovic was on Prince, the posts were handling posts, and whoever the point guard was at the moment, probably Gibson, was running around with Rip Hamilton. When Hughes is healthy, the team Cleveland fields is freaking huge. They're a defensive nightmare, as both this series and last year's seven game adventure demonstrate ably. The ugly conclusion is this: Chauncey Billups is broken because of the Cavaliers and is unlikely to un-break unless Flip Saunders shows a mental dexterity his entire career implies he does not possess.
So this is different than it usually is. This is not boredom or laziness or switch-flipping. This is for real.
- A headband? Seriously? Rasheed Wallace's energetic headband removal after a Pistons timeout earned him a technical foul that was critical towards the end of the game, making the last four seconds an academic exercise instead of a shot at a game-tying three. And... why did that need to be called? Wallace wasn't even looking at a referee or talking to one. The headband was thrown into the Detroit bench. It had no impact on the game at all. And yet the referees still saw fit to call it. Inexplicable.
- Annual "Doug Collins is horrible and I don't understand why TNT even uses him" bit: Doug Collins is horrible and I don't understand why TNT even uses him. Kerr and Albert are perfect and cannot be improved upon, but during the conference finals TNT shoves a third man in the booth for reasons that cannot be explained. This is not a unique phenomenon, either. See Monday Night Football, the late unlamented Sunday Night Football, and the Nessler/Griese/Horrible Fat Maguire trio that is also late and unlamented after only a single season. Whenever I listen to a three-man booth I invariably think "this would be better with only two people."
Re: Collins. Guaranteed to say the same thing at least four times in a row when something happens. "That layup/free throw/made shot will get [DANGEROUS SHOOTER] going" is guaranteed at least six times a game. Also his hair looks ridiculous. You are not blonde. You are not fooling anyone.
- I love the TNT studio crew. I do. No one ever doubt that. But Kenny Smith has seriously got to cut out the "Cleveland can't win a close game" sort of analysis. It's very ESPN of him and, as the last two games show, it is not true.
- Man, Chris Webber seems done with a capital D. He cannot handle the Cavs' length and activity. It's painful to watch him do all these brilliant things that come with experience and then see his legs betray him and the shot go unfinished. At this moment he is a metaphor for aging, and it is sad.
- You would think the Pistons would be able to make something out of the Cav bigs showing really hard whenever the Pistons try a high screen for Billups but they've been doing it for four games and there is nothing forthcoming from Saunders. Anything so predictable should also be exploitable.
- The Lindsey Hunter insertion was effective this game. Gibson spent a few possessions attempting to deal with him, almost got his pocket picked, and then spent the rest of the time the two spent on the floor being freaked out and giving up the ball. If only they had done it earlier.
- For some reason I find the superstar fawning re: Lebron more irritating than superstar fawning provided Nash/Kobe/Wade/etc. I think it's because it all seems so obvious. Lebron is built like a tank and could probably run to and from Detroit in ten minutes. He is obviously a freak athlete in a league consisting entirely of freak athletes. He is a freak's freak, the freakiest freak who ever freaked. If he wasn't crushing people it would be odd. I mean, when he does those nasty throwdowns or one of those preposterous (preposterous!) step-back fadeaway jumpers, sure I'm mildly impressed, but the overwhelming feeling I get is "oh well, he's Lebron, next posseession."