It all looks the same in the record books
By Adam Hoff
“It looks like a line drive in the scorebook.” My Dad used to tell me this after I’d hit a little flare to right field, or a seeing-eye single through the middle, his best effort to boost my shaky confidence at the plate. That phrase is so true. When you look in the box scores and see that a guy goes 3-for-3 in a game, you have no idea how it happened. It might have been three screaming line drives or three weak dribblers. It all looks like a line drive in the scorebook.
Such is the case with our Eastern Conference Champions. The Pistons backed into the NBA Finals, there is no doubt about that. They got a Sixers team in the first round that was playing with a human anchor in Chris Webber. So what, you say, they would have won anyway. Absolutely. But then instead of a streaky, unpredictable Boston Celtics team, they landed the decimated Pacers. They just had to wear them down. And they did it, so give them credit.
Then they rolled into Miami to play the Heat. This is where they got the breaks. Let’s face it; whether you love or hate the Pistons, they got a lot of breaks in this series. Every Miami starter played hurt. Shaq was more like Half Shaq. Dwayne Wade missed Game Six and could barely move in Game Seven. Damon Jones missed significant time in the clincher and played with two bad wheels. And on and on it goes. Anyone watching the series knows that Detroit was being outplayed until Wade’s fateful rib pull. Everyone knows it should probably be Miami playing in the Finals. Okay, not everyone, but most people, if they are being honest, realize that the Heat had this in the bag. And no one will argue that – like Charles Barkley stated – winning a series on an injury is tainted. We know all of that and we certainly recognize it in the here and now.
However, if the Pistons wind up beating a healthy, wealthy, and well Spurs team for the title, all will be forgotten. They don’t put asterisks next to title winners “that got there against an injured team.” Look back over all the NBA Finals winners and try to remember each and every series that the winner played on their road to victory. Yeah, kind of hard to recall isn’t it? That’s because nobody really cares about the various conference playoffs. Any immediate stigma from a tainted conference semifinal or final doesn’t last. All that matters is which team is listed under the title of “NBA Champion.”
That’s why the Pistons still control the destiny and the validity of their title defense. So what if they got lucky against Miami? We think in terms of “what if?” now because Wade’s grimaces and Shaq’s 10-inch vertical leap are images burned in our brains. We can still feel that awful, stomach-turning sensation that Damon Jones had to be feeling when his ankle rolled over. Even worse for Miami fans, the accompanying stomach-turning sensation that Keyon Dooling caused when he came in and allowed a 21-6 run in Jones’ absence. All of that is so fresh. For Pistons fans, that fresh feeling is relief. For Heat fans, it’s bitter disappointment. For basketball fans in general, it probably feels a lot like being cheated out of something great. All of those are feelings that you think you’ll always remember. You imagine that it is indelible and will ear mark the way this postseason is remembered: what could have been if not for Miami’s broken stars? That feels like the storyline.
It’s not. We remember champions and superstars and that is about all we have the capacity to file away in our memory banks. As I wrote in a previous column, Amare Stoudemire already staked his claim to a share of the 2005 legacy. If he goes on to average 30 and 14 a couple of times and become the most dominant player in the game, we’ll always remember this postseason as his coming out party. The only other stake left is to fill up that column reserved for champions. The race add your team’s name next to the year 2005. We always remember champions. We even recall a lot of NBA Finals matchups. We rarely, however, recall how they got there.
So if the Pistons can go into San Antonio and win one of the first two games; if they can wrestle away home court advantage and go on to win their second straight championship, well, then they stake that second claim. And 10 years from now, five years from now, maybe even a year from now, nobody will think about the Eastern Conference Finals that “could have been” for the Heat or the way Detroit seemed to get every break on the road to the Finals. All they will think about is back-to-back titles. Because when you win it all, you get the benefit of the doubt. It just comes with the territory.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning website WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.